Companies across America — from Amazon and Uber to railroads and meatpacking plants — are lobbying states and the federal government to prioritize their workers for early immunization against the coronavirus amid limited supplies of the vaccine.
After frontline health-care workers and elderly people in nursing homes and assisted-living centers are immunized, the government within two months or so is expected to begin shipping vaccine to communities across America for those it has designated as essential workers.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine advisory group voted Sunday to recommend that grocery store workers, teachers, day-care staffers, adults over 75 and other frontline workers who cannot work remotely should be the next to get the coronavirus vaccine, followed later by another large batch of essential workers and elderly people. The recommendations guide state authorities in deciding who should have priority to receive limited doses of vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
The two groups of essential workers that the government is prioritizing comprises 87 million people, spanning dozens of industries and including many people of color and many earning low wages. And the task of setting the sequence of vaccinations within that sprawling, disparate population, verifying who is essential, and setting up equitable systems for access is triggering competition. The government’s list is so broad that it includes weather forecasters and operators of shooting ranges.
Adding to the uncertainty for business leaders is a patchwork process for emergency planning: All 50 states have the power to set their own priorities.
What is clear is that there won’t be enough doses to go around for months. Local officials in each state will have to make tough choices about which essential workers get their shots first.
“It almost feels like a wrestling match out there, where many interests want to make it clear that the people they represent have a lot of essential workers,” said Jonathan Slotkin, chief medical officer of Contigo Health, which leads partnerships between large, national employers and hospital systems. Companies are displaying a “voracious appetite” for vaccines for their workforces, he said.
Police, firefighters, public transit workers and teachers will be at the top of most state lists. But lower down the line, states have divergent views on who should get shots to reduce infections and get local economies back up and running.
Once the vaccine does begin to flow to essential workers, states will be working from the government’s master list of industry categories. State officials have said they will follow these guidelines for the most part, but they are not required to.
Some advocates and policy experts fear the competition for vaccines will favor the wealthiest companies with the strongest lobbying teams in state capitals. That could disadvantage smaller firms.
Individual gig workers who deliver food and vital supplies to households, but who are not as organized, also could get left out of the planning and off vaccination lists, advocates said.
Many delivery drivers are people of color. Members of minority groups are more prone to die of COVID-19 because of historical disparities in health care. They also have been shown in polls to place less trust in vaccines because of those disparities, as well as unethical medical experiments on Black people.
“They are in fact bearing an enormous risk, the ones who are delivering to our homes,” said Dania Rajendra, who leads Athena, a coalition of social justice and labor groups that advocates on behalf of workers at Amazon from outside the company, which has 800,000 employees in the United States.