Oregon’s frontline workers will become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines on April 19, giving grocery store workers, bus drivers, waiters, waitresses and others access to vaccines around two weeks before the general population had a chance.
State officials announced earlier this week that they would open vaccine eligibility to everyone on May 1, following a White House directive. The announcement frustrated frontline workers who felt they had not been prioritized by the state and feared they would have to compete for doses with the general population.
But state officials said on Friday they were speeding up their schedule for frontline workers to receive vaccinations to ensure that workers who must interact with other people on a daily basis are given priority over the general population.
“With regard to frontline workers, I want to thank you,” Governor Kate Brown said. “You have literally been on the front lines since the start of the pandemic. … Oregon sees you and hears you and we are extremely grateful for your work. “
Grocery store workers and others on the front lines have been lobbying the state for weeks to increase their immunization schedule for essential workers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that essential workers be included among the first groups to receive the vaccine. In Washington, grocery store workers, transit workers and other frontline workers who have regular contact with other people became eligible for vaccines on Wednesday.
Oregon originally planned to make most frontline workers eligible for vaccines on May 1, while opening vaccinations to the general population on July 1.
This drew criticism from unions and frontline workers themselves, who said they were not prioritized by the state. Frustration increased earlier this week when the state announced that everyone in Oregon would become eligible for vaccines on May 1, when frontline workers were supposed to become eligible.
Miles Eshaia, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 555, which represents grocery store workers at Fred Meyer, Safeway and Albertsons, said the union would still like to see the state make grocery store workers eligible for vaccines immediately, but called the new accelerated schedule that Brown announced on Friday a step in the right direction.
“It’s a big step forward,” Eshaia said. “Before, we were grouped together with everyone and there would be no priority. The idea was, “Hey, thank you for all of your service to our community. Now you have to fight for a vaccine with everyone. At least that way, we have some time to get our essential workers and grocers the priority vaccine they deserve to interact so closely with this community all this time.
The majority of frontline workers, including grocery store workers, restaurant and bar workers, retail store workers, bus drivers, construction workers, government workers, and media will now be eligible to receive vaccines on April 19.
Vaccines will be available to farm workers even sooner.
Migrant and seasonal agricultural workers who have already started working during the harvest season will become eligible on March 22. Other farm workers, food processing workers and other farm workers will become eligible on March 29.
Some of the state’s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks have been at food processing facilities and on farms.
Frontline workers in some Oregon counties can access vaccines by April 19.
State officials said on Friday that counties that have mostly finished vaccinating elderly residents could start vaccinating the next eligible groups from March 22. People aged 45 to 64 with underlying health conditions will become eligible for vaccinations on March 29.
Bill Bradley, a board member for Local 757 of the Amalgamated Transportation Union, which represents Oregon transit workers, said it was important for frontline workers to come first on the general population. He said he hopes many frontline workers outside of the Portland metro area will be able to access vaccines by April 19.
“It’s a little positive news as we head into the weekend,” Bradley said.
– Jamie Goldberg | [email protected] | @jamiebgoldberg