They are the unsung heroes responsible for keeping the shelves of Arizona retail stores stalked and keeping communities fed throughout the pandemic, unable to work from home.
“Our members are concerned. They are confronted daily with potential exposure to COVID-19,” said President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 (UFCW99), James McLaughlin.
“They are potentially exposed to bringing that home to their loved ones. And they are concerned that they haven’t been given the opportunity, many of them to get the vaccine. A lot of members want the vaccine, so they know they are safe and protected.”
The UFCW99 represents 24,000 members in the retail and food industry across Arizona, but after the state moved to the age-based hybrid model for vaccinations, some of their members are still waiting to receive their vaccine.
“It’s important because I’m immune compromised. I have multiple sclerosis and I have my parents at home, both retired and in their late 60s and early 70s and they both have health issues,” said Safeway grocery worker Catherine Chacon.
Chacon recently received her first dose of the vaccine but acknowledges her and other employees interact with the public day in and day out.
The state is now vaccinating people 55 and older, including frontline essential workers in that age range. They also released a new list of essential workers that includes:
- Food and Agriculture
- Grocery store, convenient store, and carniceria store workers
- U.S. Postal Service workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Public Transit workers including buses, light rail, Uber, Lyft, taxis, and rideshare
- State and local government workers
- Funeral home workers
Separate from state-run vaccine sites, counties have the freedom to start vaccinating from that list.
In a press conference last week, ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ said counties are able to move earlier if they reach 50-60% of their age category that's vaccinated or if their demand slows down.
Maricopa County Public Health received almost 34,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and will begin distributing the vaccine to a variety of employers and partner to vaccinate front line workers like Valley Metro.
"This is part of the hybrid prioritization model discussed last week at our press conference and Dr. Christ addressed it as well," said a county health official.
“The people that don’t work in the retail industry are going into grocery stores shopping and meeting our members face to face,” said McLaughlin.