Poultry companies set for COVID vaccines when supply is available

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Poultry plant workers in Delaware represent a large core of essential employees waiting in Phase 1B pecking order, as Delaware’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues. While demand presently outweighs vaccine supply, Delaware’s Division of Public Health is working with the Delaware Department of Agriculture on coordination within Phase 1B populations in the farm and agriculture communities. “We have opened discussions with poultry companies and are working to help them plan to ensure they are ready to take advantage of vaccination opportunities once they become available for their workers,” said Department of Health and Social Services spokeswoman Jen Brestel. Several months into the coronavirus pandemic, poultry plants experienced noticeable COVID-19 outbreaks. “Given the outbreaks associated with poultry plants last year, we are sensitive to the vulnerable state of these workers to COVID-19 and are collaborating with the industry on their vaccination plans,” said Ms. Brestel. “We do not have a specific time frame for when vaccinations for this group will start, as it is largely dependent on vaccine supply.” Perdue Farms and Mountaire Farms both have multiple processing facilities in southern Delaware. “As soon as it became clear last fall that COVID-19 vaccines would soon be available, Perdue began putting plans in motion to distribute vaccines as quickly and efficiently as possible to our front-line associates,” said Perdue Farms spokeswoman Diana Souder. “Among other steps, this has included preparing educational materials in multiple languages about the importance of the vaccines, advocating for poultry-processing workers to receive priority in state and national distribution efforts and training the staff at our on-site Wellness Centers, according to (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.” On Dec. 10, Perdue sent a letter to the CDC and the governors of 15 states where Perdue operates meat- or poultry-processing plants, calling for those workers and their families to be included in Phase 1B and for the governors and the CDC to work together on a multistate distribution effort to reduce confusion and encourage vaccine participation. In late December, the CDC recommended that states include meat- and poultry-processing workers in Phase 1B, which Perdue applauded. Mountaire Farms — with several thousand production line workers at its Selbyville and Millsboro poultry-processing plants — has taken preparatory steps. “We’ve been working to make sure our team is ready to vaccinate our employees as soon as it becomes available,” said Mountaire Farms spokeswoman Catherine Bassett. “We purchased freezers and generators to ensure we keep the vaccine supply safe and secure, so our teams will be ready when the vaccine arrives.” Under Delaware’s vaccination rollout, Phase 1B includes essential workers. “In general, the guidance has been to encourage patience until supply allows us to open up vaccination opportunities more broadly for this section of Phase 1B-eligible persons,” she added. In Delmarva’s chicken industry, a large percentage of workers are Latino, as well as Haitian. Therefore, attempts are being made to bridge any potential language barriers.

“We’ve been sharing information about vaccine safety to our employees in multiple languages, including interviews with medical experts to provide facts on the vaccine,” said Ms. Bassett. Meanwhile, Perdue has been taking significant steps to support vaccine awareness and distribution among its employees and is staying in touch with health officials in several states, including Delaware, so it can support vaccine distribution and education efforts, Ms. Souder said. Once the vaccine becomes available, it will be administered at poultry company Wellness Centers. “We’ve been coordinating with Premise Health, which operates our on-site Health and Wellness Centers, to administer the vaccines,” said Ms. Bassett. This week, eligible Perdue Farms associates at its facility in Accomac, Virginia, received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, marking the beginning of the company’s vaccine distribution to its associates across the U.S. “We continue to work closely with state and local officials and stand ready to provide vaccines to our associates as soon as they are available by location, including our more than 2,700 associates in Delaware,” Ms. Souder said.

Steps taken by Perdue Farms to prepare for rapid vaccine distribution include: • Readying its onsite Wellness Centers, which are free to Perdue associates and their families, so the company is in a position to distribute the vaccines free and as efficiently as possible. • Much of Perdue’s Wellness Center staff has already received the vaccine, since they are health care workers who fall into Phase 1A, and Perdue expects vaccines to be available to its associates in a matter of weeks in most locations. • Ramping up its internal education campaign around vaccines with the goal of increasing participation when the vaccines are available. • Educational videos and signs in multiple languages have been placed around facilities. These have information focused on dispelling vaccine myths, while others share fellow associates’ reasons for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. • Mailing letters to associates’ homes explaining the vaccine and addressing frequently asked questions.

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