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When a panicked American cleaned up toilet paper and food supermarkets last spring, grocery store employees were recognized as one of the most essential of the pandemic’s frontline workers.

A year later, most of those workers are waiting for their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but it is almost unclear when they will come.

Distributed vaccine campaigns have resulted in patchwork of policies that vary from state to state and even from county to inconsistent deployment to low-paying key workers, who are exposed to hundreds of customers each day. ..

“When it comes to vaccination, we don’t seem to be front-line workers. Dawn Hand, who works at the Kroger supermarket in Houston, said last week that three of his colleagues weren’t infected with the virus. I see other people vaccinated at the in-store pharmacy without knowing when it’s my turn.

Texas has decided to exclude food and other essential workers from the second phase of vaccination and instead prioritize adults aged 65 and over and people with chronic medical conditions. It is one of.

Focusing on the elderly is the approach that many epidemiologists favor as the most ethical and efficient. Because it helps reduce deaths and hospitalizations faster. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people over the age of 65 account for 80% of national deaths.

“Our main goal for vaccines is to reduce deaths and hospitalizations,” said William Moss, secretary-general of the International Vaccine Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. “To do that, we need to start vaccination of the people at highest risk.”

However, many grocery workers have also raised expectations by encouraging the CDC Panel to include groceries and other important employees in 1B, the second phase of vaccine deployment. I was surprised and disappointed that I was excluded from the policy. ..

Even if grocery workers are prioritized, they still face long wait times. In early January, New York, along with other key employees and people over the age of 65, released the vaccine to grocery workers. However, limited supplies make bookings more difficult and even more difficult for workers without large corporations or unions to defend them.

Edward Lara had to close his small grocery store (known as Bodega) in the Bronx for 40 days when he and his employees were infected with the virus last spring. He tried to get a vaccine appointment for weeks, but eventually found that he could register from the website of a network of healthcare providers. This will notify you when the slot opens.

Lara’s father-in-law died of the virus in March. His mother-in-law died in November. Last week, a friend who manages Bodega’s insurance also died. And New Jersey’s cousin was infected with the virus again, leaving him afraid that it could happen.

“You don’t have to do anything. I hope God will protect me by crossing my fingers,” Lara said after joining the waiting list.

According to the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, which represents 1.3 million US food, meat packaging, and other front-line workers, 13 currently allow food workers to register for vaccines. State only.

Some states are still in the early stages of prioritizing healthcare professionals and nursing home residents. In many states, the second phase is divided into those who make grocery workers lower than others, such as people over the age of 65, teachers, and first responders. According to a study by United 4 Respect, a labor group that defends workers in Wal-Mart, Amazon, and other major retailers, 11 states have no clear plans to prioritize grocery workers.

At MOM’s Organic Market, a 21-store grocery chain in the Mid-Atlantic region, Chief Cultural Officer Jon Croft initially believed that the company’s 1,500 workers would be vaccinated by the end of January. He now thinks it will be like March or April. The company was only able to pre-register workers from two stores in Maryland and two stores in Virginia.

“People feel that being at the forefront deserves the opportunity to get vaccinated,” Croft said. “Politicians and the health sector have praised grocery workers, but are now silent.”

Major food retailers say they are playing their part in getting workers vaccinated. Kroger, the country’s largest grocery chain, said he has been vaccinated since Illinois employees were qualified, but grocery workers have most of the jurisdiction in which the company operates. Not yet qualified in the area. Target and Wal-Mart also said they would provide workers with vaccines at their pharmacies as soon as they were qualified.

Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Target, and the online distribution service Instacart offer bonuses or additional paid leave to vaccinated workers.

When the grocery chain Lidl was contacted by Suffolk County, Long Island, to appoint a local worker, it immediately contacted those who were known to be at highest risk. To date, more than 100 employees in Suffolk County have been shot.

One of them is Joseph Lupo, Lidl’s supervisor who was infected with the virus in March.

“I don’t want to get a COVID again, or see someone else get it,” Rupo, 59.

But for many grocery workers, the perception that they are not always qualified quickly increases the sense of consumables. They have fought an almost defeated battle over hazard pay. It was provided by a few companies in the spring, but ended despite the many resurgences of the vaccine.

Even now, a year after the pandemic, some shoppers still refuse to wear masks, and managers often do not force them to follow the rules.

Drew Board, who earns $ 13.50 an hour to process grocery pick-up orders in Wal-Mart, Albemarle, North Carolina, said, “People who wear masks in the middle of the door or remove them as soon as they enter the door. There is. ” .. “I politely ask them to pull it up, and they do, and get it back when they leave.”

Francisco Marte, chairman of Bodega and the Small Business Association in New York, said he had told his workers not to endanger their lives in the face of maskless shoppers. In August, an angry customer cut off thousands of dollars worth of merchandise at the Bronx Bodega after being asked to wear a mask.

“It should be a police job,” said Marte, who handed out 150,000 free masks in the spring when the organization was scarce. “I tell my employees to stay away and wear masks, but don’t risk them because we lose.”

Marte said he is urging local authorities to cancel vaccine reservations for Bodega workers. Many of them are unaware that they are eligible. He hopes that the recent opening of a large vaccination site at Yankee Stadium will make it easier to access.

Meanwhile, the virus continues to pass through grocery stores.

According to the UFCW, there have been 137 COVID-19 outbreaks in Southern California grocery stores over the past two months, infecting 500 Houston grocery workers. The union knows 124 grocery workers who have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Debbie Whipple, Cloger’s scan manager in Fayetteville, Georgia, said her union, UFWC Local 1996, hopes Georgia will release the vaccine to grocery workers as early as April. Said not.

“People need food, so they have to be here like firefighters and police officers,” Whipple said. “We need to be vaccinated.”

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Phoenix Associated Press author Anita Snow contributed to this report.

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