Oregon’s frontline workers will become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations on April 19, giving grocery store workers, bus drivers, waiters, waitresses and others access to the shots roughly two weeks before the general population will have its opportunity.
State officials announced earlier this week that they will open vaccine eligibility to everyone on May 1, following a directive from the White House. The announcement frustrated frontline workers who felt they hadn’t been prioritized by the state and worried they would have to compete for doses with the general population.
But state officials announced Friday that they are accelerating their timeline for frontline workers to receive vaccinations to ensure workers who must interact with other people on a daily basis are prioritized ahead of the general population.
“In terms of frontline workers, I want to say thank you,” Gov. Kate Brown said. “You literally have been on the frontlines since the beginning of the pandemic. … Oregon sees you and hears you and we’re incredibly grateful for your work.”
Grocery store workers and others on the frontline have been pressuring the state for weeks to move up their timeline for vaccinating essential workers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that essential workers be included among the first groups to receive the vaccine. In Washington, grocery workers, public transit employees and other frontline workers who have regular contact with other people became eligible for the vaccines Wednesday.
Oregon had originally planned to make most frontline workers eligible for vaccines on May 1, while opening up vaccinations to the general population on July 1.
That drew criticism from unions and frontline workers themselves, who said they weren’t being prioritized by the state. Frustration grew earlier this week when the state announced that all Oregonians would become eligible for vaccines on May 1, the same date that frontline workers were supposed to become eligible.
Miles Eshaia, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 555, which represents grocery store workers at Fred Meyer, Safeway and Albertsons, said the union would still like to see the state make grocery store workers eligible for vaccines immediately, but called the new accelerated timeline that Brown announced Friday a step in the right direction.
“It’s a big step forward,” Eshaia said. “Before we were lumped in with everyone and there was going to be no priority whatsoever. The whole idea was, ‘Hey, thanks for all your service to our community. Now, you get to fight for a vaccine along with everybody else.’ At least this way, we have a little bit of lead time to get our essential workers and our grocery workers that priority vaccine they deserve for interacting with this community so closely this whole time.”
The majority of frontline workers, including grocery store employees, restaurant and bar staff, retail store employees, bus drivers, construction workers, government employees and news media will now become eligible to receive vaccines on April 19.
The vaccines will be available to agricultural workers even sooner.
Migrant and seasonal farmworkers that have already started working this harvest season will become eligible on March 22. Other farmworkers, food processing workers and other agricultural workers will become eligible on March 29.
Some of the largest COVID-19 workplace outbreaks in the state have occurred at food processing facilities and farms.
Frontline workers in certain Oregon counties may be able to access the vaccines before April 19.
State officials said Friday that counties that have mostly finished vaccinating elderly residents may begin vaccinating the next eligible groups starting March 22. People ages 45 to 64 with underlying health conditions will become eligible for vaccinations on March 29.
Bill Bradley, an executive board officer for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, which represents Oregon transit workers, said it is important that frontline workers are being prioritized above the general population. He said he is hopeful that many frontline workers outside of the Portland metro area will be able to access the vaccines sooner than April 19.
“It’s a bit positive news as we head into the weekend,” Bradley said.