New Jersey seafood workers aim to be among first round of essential workers getting vaccine

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A group of New Jersey fishing businesses and organizations sent a letter to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy this month urging him to keep the seafood industry’s workers as a high-priority group for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Seafood employees, like others in the food processing industry, are considered essential workers. According to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that group falls in Phase 1b, along with public transit employees, first responders as well as teachers and other school staff.

Those federal guidelines, though, stand just as a recommendation as the states will be making the call on who gets priority. New Jersey’s COVID-19 vaccination plan calls for defining the essential workers group in early 2021.

The state says it plans to follow the CDC recommendations, but it’s expected there will be more intended recipients than available vaccines. With that anticipated shortage, officials believe they’ll need to prioritize within the Phase 1b grouping.

The New Jersey Seafood Coalition told Murphy in the Dec. 17 letter that the crews on New Jersey’s commercial fishing vessels help ensure food security.

“All Americans depend on these women and men to harvest, process, and distribute healthy foods,” the coalition wrote. “Effective vaccination of food industry workers will help vital food industry supply chains, including our own, continue to function during what appears to be a resurgence of this dangerous virus.”

On Wednesday, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said that as the state continues to administer doses to health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities it will also start a public awareness campaign on the vaccines’ safety targeted at essential workers and the public. The campaign includes fact sheets, which are available in 20 languages.

“The campaign will include TV, radio, digital ads, billboards, social media, and transit ads,” she said.

Other food workers are also urging Murphy and other governors to give them priority access to vaccines. On Wednesday, the United Food and Commercial Workers teamed with the North American Meat Institute to write a letter to all governors to state their case.

“Prioritizing vaccination for the diverse meat industry workforce maximizes ethical, scientific, and implementation considerations, using existing health systems to support essential workers and secure the food supply for all Americans,” wrote UFCW International Vice President Mark Laurtisen and Institute President and CEO Julie Anne Potts in the letter.

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