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Washington’s New COVID Vaccine Rollout Plan Includes Food Industry Workers

Those over 50 working at grocery stores and in agriculture settings will be eligible to get the vaccine in February

A female grocery store worker wearing a mask and gloves scans a bottled beverage at checkout.
Some grocery store workers will be eligible to receive the COVID vaccine in February, and others in April.

This week, Washington released a set of COVID-19 vaccine distribution details that will impact food industry workers. In a new estimated timeline, workers 50 years and older in agriculture, food processing plants, and grocery stores at high risk because they work closely with others will be eligible to receive the vaccine in February. They are in the same grouping as other high-risk workers in congregate settings, such as teachers, public transit employees, and law enforcement.

After those people get inoculated, the state plans to roll out the vaccine to people 16 or older with two or more co-morbidities in March. Then in April, the aforementioned critical workers in congregate settings under the age of 50 will be eligible. The timeline extends through April, although details on who will be next in line to receive the vaccine in subsequent phases, including the general public, is still unclear.

Washington’s release of this plan is the most detailed yet from the state’s health department, and it comes after mounting pressure to ramp up vaccination efforts. Washington has received 522,550 doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, but vaccine providers have only administered 126,602 shots so far, according to health secretary Dr. Umair Shah (data may be lagging by a few days).

The tiered guidelines also come not long after a union representing grocery employees in the state called for its members to be vaccinated soon, along with other essential workers. Since first receiving doses of vaccines in December, the state has been prioritizing health care workers and those in long-term care facilities but had yet to detail which groups were next in line until now.

Missing from the vaccine plan are restaurant workers. Though some may be part of other larger groups eligible to receive the vaccine, restaurants are not mentioned in the “congregate settings” category, even though the state has repeatedly identified restaurant dining rooms and kitchens as such. While it’s still early in the vaccine rollout process, and details may change, at least one major US city has included restaurant workers as a priority group — in Washington, D.C., they will be eligible to receive the vaccine on February 1.