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Kansas Meatpacking Workers Get COVID-19 Vaccines Starting this Week

The National Beef plant in Dodge City is one of the state's large meatpacking facilities. (Photo by Bethany Wood, Kansas News Service)

Story by Celia Llopis-Jepsen
 

Two weeks after Kansas said it wouldn’t earmark vaccines for meatpacking workers, the state on Thursday promised shots to thousands of people in those slaughterhouse jobs starting this week.

More than 10,000 people work in the plants, which include massive facilities in Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal vital to the economy of southwest Kansas.

By the end of next week, the state expects to get first doses to all the workers who want them.

“This is crucial and the right path to protect the workers and communities where these plants are located,” said Martin Rosas, president of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 2 that represents thousands of Kansas meatpackers. “This is one step forward to go back to normal.”

Workers at the plants are largely immigrants and people of color. Statistics released by the state of Kansas and other states suggest Hispanic communities lag in access to the potentially life-saving vaccines.

Gov. Laura Kelly said the new program to get doses to meatpacking plants would help address that disparity.

The union pushed for that access because meatpacking plants have been a top source of coronavirus outbreaks in Kansas. Only long-term care facilities and jails and prisons are linked to more cases.

Meatpacking workers fall into the second phase of the state’s vaccine rollout, but that phase is so huge that it includes one-third of the state’s population.

While the workers waited for news about when their turn would come to get shots, Kansas earmarked doses for teachers and some counties began vaccinating college faculty, postal workers and people in other professions.

Blanca Soto is a city commissioner in Dodge City who works for Kansas Appleseed, a group that advocates for racial and economic justice.

“Employees in Finney, Ford, Seward, Lyon counties and many other communities in Kansas will rest a lot easier tonight,” she said.

The pandemic forced them to make difficult choices, she said, about whether to keep going to work and risk contracting the virus, or to stay home and risk losing income and health insurance.

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Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio - focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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