LANSING — Frontline ag and food-processing workers can get vaccinated starting March 1, according to an announcement from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
MDHHS announced updates to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan that would “help ensure the health and safety of Michigan’s essential food and agriculture workers and keep the state’s food supply chain moving.” Just weeks after MDHHS told Michigan Farm News ag workers would more than likely wait until May 1 to be vaccinated, this change allows for earlier access for frontline workers in agriculture and food processing.
Frontline employees work close to others (within 6 feet) or interact with the general public. There are about 79,000 ag frontline workers in Michigan.
According to Ben Tirrell, associate legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan tries to balance health risks while maintaining essential services to the broader population.
Tirrell said the CDC definition of food and agricultural workers includes almost all associated input supply, farm or greenhouse labor, transportation, and processing and retail workers associated with the human and animal food systems.
“The update in the plan to allow for ‘frontline’ agriculture and food processing workers to be vaccinated starting March 1 will help maintain a safe and abundant food supply for the general public and avoid some of the disruptions we saw last spring,” Tirrell added. “While we are still working with MDHHS to understand the specific workers that will become eligible and help them get in line, we will continue to advocate for vaccine availability for the entire agriculture and food industry as outlined in CDC guidance, but this is certainly a positive first step in protecting some vulnerable segments of our supply chain.”
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, said workers in higher-risk agricultural settings are adversely affected by the pandemic.
“We also know that we need to remove barriers to vaccine access for our most vulnerable individuals in Michigan, including those with disabilities, lower income, and racial and ethnic minorities,” Khaldun said in a statement. “These steps will allow our federally qualified health centers across the state to begin vaccinating and will prioritize vaccine allocation to partnerships and providers who are removing barriers to access.
“This strategy is important as we move forward with our goal to equitably vaccinate 70% of Michiganders age 16 and over as quickly as possible.”
Additionally, 41 federally qualified health centers will start receiving vaccine allocations to help vaccinate individuals age 65 and older. These community health centers serve medically underserved areas.
Currently, the 65-and-older population is eligible to be vaccinated in Michigan. Providers with specific plans to remove barriers to access across the state will also be allowed to request vaccine for people age 60 and up.
Updated vaccine prioritization guidance can be found on Michigan’s COVID-19 website.
More information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine.