TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - They were labeled essential at the start of the pandemic, but now grocery workers are facing long wait times to get the COVID vaccine.
This comes as other small counties in Arizona, like Coconino, are allowing those in the “non-priority” 1B group, including grocery workers, to get vaccinated.
Pima County is not there yet.
The Pima County Health Department said Monday they were considering opening registration for the “non-priority” group of 1B in mid-to-late March.
But calling those who were once considered ‘essential’ now ‘non-priority’, has grocery workers like Chloe confused. Especailly since she is still on the front lines every day.
“We felt essential,” said Chloe, who did not want to reveal her last name or place of work. “And we feel kind of less so now.”
Chloe had a glimmer of hope last week. She said El Rio Health showed online that food service workers were able to register for the vaccine. But within hours of securing an appointment, she was told it was a mistake.
“Within like 4 hours to have it taken away was disappointing,” said Chloe.
El Rio responded to KOLD saying:
“El Rio Health is currently vaccinating established El Rio patients who are over 70 years of age, first responders and teachers. We (El Rio and County) own the miscommunication from last week, as there has been a lot of confusion around eligibility based on the group and group subsets. We are forward to more vaccine coming to Tucson and Pima County.”
On Monday, Dr. Francisco Garcia with the county health department made it clear.
“Folks who are doing those front-line functions, we will get to them. And they will be served, and they will be vaccinated before many other people in this environment,” said Garcia.
However, they’re not there yet with low vaccine supply and a large population of 65 year old’s to go through first.
“We still have a long way to go before we get all those folks covered,” said Garcia.
There’s hope that more vaccine will arrive soon with the FDA set to review the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for emergency approval next Friday.
Until then, grocery workers will continue working on the front lines, hoping the public works to follow mitigation.
“We’re here to make sure people get what they need and get home safely,” said Chloe.
We reached out to our local United Food and Commercial Workers Union who had this to say in response:
“Whether the workers at your local grocery store have received the COVID vaccine may depend on where you live. That’s what seems to be happening across Arizona with only six counties vaccinating essential grocery workers while the remaining nine counties are not. According to Arizona Health Department officials, the six counties vaccinating grocery works are Coconino, Navajo, Apache, Graham, Santa Cruz, La Paz. The problem does not appear to be local policy where essential grocery workers are not in a priority group, but a shortage of vaccine.
“Obviously It is in the public’s interest for workers who staff their grocery store to be fully vaccinated,” said UFCW Local 99 President Jim McLaughlin. “This is simple to understand, our grocery stores are where all the other “essential” workers go to get their food and other goods.”
“We are taking this situation very seriously,” said McLaughlin “our members are just as essential now, if not more so, than they were when the pandemic first hit.”
McLaughlin adds that UFCW Local 99 is tracking when and where members are able to be vaccinated. The union is also trying to work closely with state officials running the COVID vaccination program to get this matter resolved as quickly as possible.