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Arkansas Health Officials Report That Vaccine Clinics at Meatpacking Plants Were Successful

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Program reached the Marshallese workers who have moved from the island nation in the central Pacific Ocean to work in the poultry and meatpacking industry in northwest Arkansas.

By some counts, the meatpacking industry in the United States employs more than a 500,000workers, or about one-third of people of food and beverage manufacturing employees in the country. During the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry was in the spotlight as a source of outbreak and transmission. The Trump administration declared the poultry and meatpacking industries an essential industry, so the plans were exempt from orders from state officials that might have closed them. ProPublica, the investigative news organization has reported on the close cooperation between the Trump administration and the industry and allegations that the companies hid cases. A study published in the journal Food Policy in 2021 found that 150 days following the emergence of COVID-19 in a given county, the presence of a large beef packing facility was associated with 110% increased per capita infection rate, relative to comparable counties without meatpacking plants. The presence of a pork processing facility was associated with a 160% increase in transmission and a chicken plant with a 20% increase. The increase tapered off so the transmission rates between the meatpacking and non-meatpacking counties converge. Still, Tina Saitone, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, and her colleagues calculated that 334,000 COVID-19 infections could be attributed to meatpacking plans with costs of the associated mortality and morbidity totaling $11.2 billion.

Once COVID-19 vaccine became available in early 2021, some of the meatpacking companies imposed vaccine mandates. Other companies provided vaccines and offered bonuses to employees who got vaccinated

Austin Porter, Dr. Ph., M.P.H., of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas, and his colleagues reported on efforts to set up vaccine clinics at poultry and meatpacking plants in Arkansas.

Austin Porter, Dr. Ph., M.P.H., of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas, and his colleagues reported on efforts to set up vaccine clinics at poultry and meatpacking plants in Arkansas.

In a brief “notes from the field” report published last week in the American Journal of Public Health, Austin Porter, Dr.Ph., M.P.H., of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas and his colleagues, Pansy James and Cassie Cochran, M.P.H., of the Arkansas Department of Health, described a program that involved setting up state health department-run vaccine clinics onsite at meat and poultry packing plants in Arkansas.

Arkansas ranks third in poultry processing in the state, and the workers in the 19 poultry and meatpacking plants are disproportionately Hispanic and immigrants from the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean. People started migrating from the Marshall Islands to northwest Arkansas in 1980s.The U.S. government allows people from the islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau to come to the U.S. as “habitual residents” in exchange for the prerogative to operate military facilities in those countries.

Porter and his colleagues port that the Arkansas Department of Health set up clinics at 10 different poultry and meatpacking plants from May 2021 through April 2022. Workers could get the shot during a work break “to avoid any disruption in plant productivity.” The clinics were open to anyone, including family members of workers, but the target population was employees.

The researchers tally shows that 1,790 doses of COVID-19 were administered along with a 599 flu shots. Approximately two-thirds (67%) of the people vaccinated were Hispanic and about one-fifth (21.7%) were Marshallese.

Just five of the 19 poultry and meatpacking companie in the state participated in the program, and workers at three companies accounted for almost all (98%) of the vaccine administered,\.

Still, Porter and his colleagues characterized the program as a success and wrote that the industry “may be willing to commit resources in the form of grants to sustain and expand these efforts to address other public health threats and emergencies.”

They also note that having access vaccination may be “critically important” the state’s Marshallese population because they may not be eligible for federal benefits such as Medicare.

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