Grocery workers feel left behind: ‘How long do we have to wait for the vaccine?’

Grocery workers feel left behind: ‘How long do we have to wait for the vaccine?’

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - They’re the people who make sure you can put dinner on the table.

Food workers on the front lines of the pandemic continue to put themselves at risk every day.

19 News found they’re asking for priority for the vaccine and so far in Ohio, they’re not on that list.

Nationwide, nearly 400 front line workers have died during the pandemic-- from grocery store workers to meatpacking employees, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

UFCW represents 1.3 million front line and essential workers. 65,000 of them are in Ohio.

Eric Nelson is a grocery worker in Ohio.
Eric Nelson is a grocery worker in Ohio. (Source: United Food and Commercial Workers International Union)

Eric Nelson is an online shopper at a grocery store near Cincinnati.

He said he’s faced with terrible choices every day to provide for his family.

“I have congestive heart failure. I’ve had it for years. I live with that risk every day, but I have to work,” Nelson said.

In the beginning of the pandemic, he said grocery stores like his called them heroes.

But now, he said they’re not treated that way.

“Demands working on the front lines of Covid are unreal. Nothing could prepare me or anyone else for this type of pressure,” Nelson said.

Every day, he said he worries about getting coronavirus at work and bringing it home to his family.

“We’ve seen and heard of grocery workers getting sick and even dying,” Nelson said.

Nelson joined other workers in his union, calling for priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine.

CDC guidelines suggest grocery workers should be priority for the vaccine, but UFCW reports only 13 states have vaccines open for them right now.

“Grocery workers like me are putting our health and the health of our families at risk. This pandemic is still real,” Nelson said.

The UFCW also reports 137 grocery workers have died and more than 30,100 grocery workers have been infected or exposed to the virus.

Union president Marc Perrone said 70 percent of essential food workers they represent want to take the vaccine right now.

“We’re not saying these workers need to be first. But they shouldn’t be last either,” Perrone said.

Perrone said grocery workers are among the most at risk to daily exposure to the virus.

But hazard pay, which was given to them at the start of the pandemic by many of their employers, has been stripped from many workers over the last few months.

Eric Nelson is calling on Governor DeWine for priority access as soon as possible.

“But we keep waiting to be vaccinated. How long do we have to wait? Because this virus isn’t waiting,” Nelson said.

The Ohio Department of Health sent 19 News this statement:

There are many worthy groups and many high priority groups. Unfortunately, the state is receiving limited amounts of vaccine. It is a scarce resource. The Governor has made clear that his goals for Phases 1A and 1B are to protect healthcare workers, to save as many lives as possible and to get children back in the classroom. Vaccinating healthcare workers helps lessen the burden on our healthcare system. Eighty-seven percent of deaths in Ohio from COVID-19 are in people 65 and older. Phases 1A and 1B do not include grocery and meatpacking workers, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be included in other vaccination priority groups. We expect Phase 1B to take several months, but discussions will begin shortly on who will be prioritized next. Until we get more vaccine, we don’t have a timeframe of when the next phase will begin.

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