Groups representing thousands of grocery store workers railed against the Lamont administration’s change in the state’s vaccination schedule announced this week.
Another 750,000 people, including people over age 55, teachers and child care workers, are among the next group to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting March 1, but grocery store workers will have to wait.
“We’re opening up to a pretty big cohort,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday. “Fifty-five and up. I would urge you to be patient. It’s going to be busy that first week or so. Maybe wait your turn a little bit longer.”
When pressed on the decision to leave out grocery store workers, Lamont referred to the challenge of preventing confusion over definitions of grocery stores, and the CDC’s list of underlying conditions. The change was made in consultation with other governors and with input from the Vaccine Advisory Group, he said.
“I am comfortable that we represented the community because of the speed we’re able to get through the groups,” said Dr. Reginald J. Eadie, President and CEO of Trinity Health. “This is the fastest way to get as many people vaccinated as possible in the state of Connecticut.”
Lamont and Eadie told reporters that by prioritizing age over pre-existing conditions, or essential workers, they are vaccinating a large number of people with pre-existing conditions in the age 55 to 64 group as well as the older groups previously vaccinated.
The plan also includes mobile clinics in areas underserved in the rollout who might not have access to scheduling technology or a ride to one of the vaccine clinics. Targetting that population could also reach many essential food service and grocery store workers.
The delay will be weeks, not months and situations can change depending upon vaccine supply and logistics, health officials said Monday.
But representatives of the grocery industry referred to the sacrifice of their workers throughout the pandemic and continued risk.
“Since the start of the pandemic, Connecticut’s grocery community has operated with two overarching missions: provide our fellow Connecticut citizens with healthy, nutritious, and safe foods; and protect our essential workers so they can continue to perform their critical roles,” according to a statement from the Connecticut Food Association.
State grocers doled out hazard pay to grocery store workers, added sick time, gave out bonuses and secured protective equipment for the hundreds of workers who came to work during the worst of the pandemic. One Stratford Stop & Shop employee who contracted COVID-19 died last summer.
“We will be having difficult conversations with our associates who believed they would be eligible for a vaccination in the next phase,” according to the CGA. “It is important to ensure these workers receive the vaccination as soon as possible to keep them safe and to keep the supply chain operating efficiently.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 371 estimated that more than 30,000 unionized members nationwide contracted or were exposed to COVID-19. Lamont’s announcement was “disappointing” and “disheartening,” the union leaders said.
“UFCW Local 371’s members working on the front lines in CT’s grocery stores have been selling food and supplies to CT’s residents since the crazy first days of the pandemic, when people searched high and low for Clorox wipes and toilet paper — when the stores were filled with throngs of mask-less shoppers and there wasn’t PPE in sight,” according to a union statement. “In the eleven months since then, these same members have reported to work every day, often faced with confronting shoppers head on when they refused to follow safety protocol.”
Lamont said he had to “narrow the lens” to avoid confusion and delay. Health officials spent hours trying to clarify large grocery store, big box grocery chains, convenience stores, liquor stores and a wide range of other retail variables. State health officials agreed the fastest way to get vaccines in arms was to move through the age groups with the oldest having the highest risk factors.
Teachers and school staff do not need to make appointments on the available platforms, but are encouraged to await instructions from their administrators.
“This is great news for our teachers and staff — they have been truly amazing throughout this pandemic,” said Meriden Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni.
Meriden Public Schools issued a notice to teachers Tuesday telling them the district was working with the city’s Department of Health and Human Services on scheduling dates for vccination clinics.
”The health department is presently trying to secure the supply of vaccines needed to inoculate all staff,” according to the notice. “Our hope is to have a date scheduled for staff vaccination by the end of next week. We will follow up with more detailed information on scheduling vaccinations once we have a definitive date of the arrival of the vaccine supply.”
Special vaccination clinics will be onsite at local schools to vaccinate teachers, staff members, custodians, kitchen staff and bus drivers. Volunteers already working in the schools are eligible, but no new volunteers will be accepted, according to Lamont.
Wallingford Public Schools set up tenative vaccination clinics at the Wallingford Senior Center for first and second doses throughout the months of March and April, said Superintendent Salvatore Menzo.
The schedule will be finalized based upon available supply.
Members of the general public over age 55 may start scheduling appointments on Monday.
For more information on scheduling a vaccination appointment go to Myrecordjournal.com/coronavirus.