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Meatpacking firms encouraging workers to get virus vaccine

February 2, 2021 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Meatpacking companies and public health officials are trying to overcome any reluctance workers may have about coronavirus vaccines before they become eligible to get them.

Major companies such as Tyson Foods and JBS are encouraging workers to get the vaccine with campaigns to educate them about the benefits and safety of the shots. Also, JBS and Pilgrim’s Corp. are offering $100 bonuses to workers who get the vaccine.

Last spring, the virus spread quickly through meatpacking plants, where workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder as they carve up meat on production lines.

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But some workers, who are largely immigrants, distrust the government and some question the safety of the shots because they were developed in less than a year, said Eric Reeder, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 293 union.

“It’s the same thing as when we tried to get people involved in the (vaccine) trials,” Reeder told the Omaha World-Herald. “We had a hard time with the non-English-speaking population. A lot of them felt like this was a government plot to kill them.”

JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson said the company is trying to address workers’ concerns through flyers in their native languages and other efforts.

“We are currently focused on achieving the highest voluntary participation rate possible and preventing barriers to getting the vaccine,” said JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson. “We want to do everything we can to protect our team members, their families, their co-workers and our communities.”

Reeder said he got the first dose of the vaccine Monday because he participated in a trial as it was being developed last year. He plans to share pictures of himself getting the vaccine with workers to encourage them to get it.

“A lot of it is just gonna be building some level of trust,” Reeder said.

In Nebraska, meatpacking workers and other essential workers who can’t work from home are scheduled to get the vaccine in one of the next phases of the campaign after health officials finish vaccinating people 65 and older. Gov. Pete Ricketts said local health officials will work with companies to determine the best way to vaccinate workers when the time comes.

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Eddie Habte Mekasha, who works as a chaplain with the Ethiopian Community Association and in health care, said most immigrants he knows are eager to get the vaccine.

“At first, people were fearful and suspicious,” he said. “But later, because of the good promotion by the media and health and community professionals, our members and similar immigrants are waiting eagerly to get vaccinated, and a few like me and my wife (have been) vaccinated.”

More than 100,000 people have registered to get the vaccine since a new state website launched late last week, state officials said. So far, about 3.3% of the state’s population has received both required doses of one of the vaccines, and 185,536 doses have been administered across Nebraska.

The state said 115 new cases of the virus were reported Monday, but that total will likely be adjusted in the next few days because Nebraska now reports positive cases by the date the tests were taken, not the day they were reported. A total of 191,437 virus cases and 1,929 deaths have been reported in the state.