- In a memo sent to the White House Coronavirus Response Task Force, the Consumer Brands Association highlighted the challenges the industry is facing navigating the state-by-state patchwork approach for COVID-19 vaccinations. With food and other manufacturers operating in all 50 states, "the industry feels firsthand the impact of an inconsistent vaccination program," said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the group.
- The CBA outlined five steps it said would create a more effective vaccination process, including providing federal incentives to state and local jurisdictions for adherence to vaccination phases; incentivizing the use of a uniform system for identifying and registering eligible recipients; partnering with CPG manufacturers on a multilingual, multicultural vaccine education campaign; having states provide projections on vaccine availability so employers can register, educate and facilitate the vaccination of frontline workers; and prioritizing public-private partnerships to assist authorities to overcome distribution challenges and improve supply chain resiliency.
- As the U.S. distributes its vaccine, a handful of companies such as JBS and Chobani are offering incentives, such as bonuses or paid time off for their workers to get vaccinated. Tyson Foods reportedly will offer vaccines on site at its facilities while employees are on the job. At the same time, food manufacturers have said they are waiting for guidance from state and local officials on when their workers will be eligible to be vaccinated.
As the U.S. slowly rolls out vaccines to millions of Americans, there are signs of mounting frustration among CPG companies over the disjointed patchwork approach being used across the country. "There are 50 states with 50 different vaccination plans — only some of which align with federal government guidance — all moving at different speeds," the CBA said in its memo dated Jan. 27.
The trade group, which estimated it represents 1.7 million frontline essential workers, said it "welcomes the Biden administration’s desperately needed COVID-19 leadership" and was hopeful CBA's guidance would be useful in developing "an effective and cohesive national vaccine strategy."
A Food Dive analysis found most states plan to allow workers to get vaccinated in Phase 1b along with other critical or essential workers. But several states are modifying their vaccine roadmap to reflect delays in administering it or supply constraints. In California, for instance, there has been debate about shifting to prioritizing by age over all essential workers.
"Vaccination 'traffic jams' are delaying protection for vulnerable frontline essential workers as companies and their employers must navigate a jurisdictional patchwork of ambiguous approaches to vaccination eligibility," CBA said. "Many state and county jurisdictions have outright de-prioritized frontline essential workers."
CPG manufacturers want to ensure their employees get access to the vaccine as soon as possible, not only for their safety but so the business has an adequate staff of trained people to run and oversee the operations. Early in the outbreak, manufacturers, especially in meat and poultry, were hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak. With plants temporarily closed for cleaning, there were brief pockets of meat and poultry shortages across the U.S., and grocers putting temporary limits on how much consumers could buy.
CBA made a point in its memo to the White House that it should work with CPG manufacturers on a multilingual, multicultural vaccine education campaign. There are an estimated 175,000 immigrants in U.S. meatpacking jobs, according to the Los Angeles Times, and the industry has historically relied on foreign-born workers. Meat processor JBS USA estimated about 60% to 90% of its "diverse workforce" at individual facilities are willing to get vaccinated.
It's uncertain how much a letter from the CBA will influence the White House but the fact that the trade group represents nearly 2 million people who make more than 1,700 brands used regularly by consumers could cause the Biden administration to take notice. In addition, Freeman's decision to highlight the challenges frontline workers are facing and mounting frustration taking place throughout the industry may create some urgency to act.