Kansas meatpacker workers beginning to get vaccinations

Kansas meatpacking workers on March 4 began to receive COVID-19 vaccination shots as part of a policy to make them a priority in the Phase 2 process, according to state officials and media outlets.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced her administration’s plan to vaccinate meatpacking plant workers in Kansas. Under the plan, all meatpacking workers who want to be vaccinated will receive the first dose within the next two weeks.

“Kansas meatpacking workers risked their lives to feed our state, our nation, and our world,” Kelly said. “I was proud to announce that by the end of next week, we will complete first doses for every meatpacking worker in Kansas.”

“Since the pandemic began, many of us have anxiously awaited this day … a day where our meat processing employees would have access to a vaccine that would protect them, their coworkers, and their families,” Secretary Mike Beam, Kansas Department of Agriculture, said.

Ernesto De La Rosa, Dodge City, who serves on the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission, applauded the decision.

“As we know, meat packing workers were classified as essential workers since day one of the COVID19 pandemic. COVID19 infection data shows that meat packing workers have been disproportionally impacted,” he said. “This vaccine plan by the governor’s office means that our most precious resource, our workers, will be protected from this terrible virus by improving their health and well-being.  Meat packing workers are vital to Dodge City’s economy and are deserving of the COVID19 vaccine.”

In mid-February during a legislative update with Rep. Brad Ralph, R-Dodge City, De La Rosa noted that 25% of the nation’s meatpacking industry is in southwest Kansas. Dodge City alone has more than 6,000 employees at its two packing plants—Cargill Meat Solutions and National Beef—and he said only a handful of employees had been vaccinated and those employees are the ones who met the early phase requirements.

De La Rosa said it was essential the meatpacking workers receive those vaccines as quickly as possible because of their importance to the agricultural economy and community. De La Rosa is also an assistant city manager for Dodge City.

Much like Kelly’s “Back to School” plan to vaccinate Kansas teachers and school staff, counties with meatpacking plants will receive additional vaccine doses specifically earmarked for meatpacking workers, in addition to the doses counties already receive from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. KDHE is coordinating this approach with local health departments and directly with the meatpacking plants.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].