Utah grocers hesitant to speak on vaccination plans

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Grocery store workers at Day’s Market in Provo, Utah, wear masks and work from behind a plastic divider to protect them from exposure to COVID-19. In Utah, some grocery stores are not prioritizing vaccination for their workers. (Cassidy Wixom)

Most grocery stores in Utah are not talking about whether they are prioritizing COVID-19 vaccination for their workers.

Many grocery store workers around the country are feeling “forgotten” as essential workers because they are left out of vaccination rollout plans, according to the New York Times.

Grocery store workers are exposed to hundreds of people every day. Grocery stores were also one of the few services not shut down when the pandemic hit. This caused many stores to take extra safety precautions such as increased sanitation, added safety equipment, required mask-wearing and social distancing.

Some grocery stores provided temporary hero or hazard pay to employees during 2020 and others, such as Aldi or Trader Joe’s, more recently have issued incentives for workers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

For some Utah grocery stores, vaccination for workers is not a priority.

Major Utah grocery stores in the Provo-Orem area were unwilling to talk about their policy regarding vaccination of their workers. The Daily Universe reached out to Smith’s, Harmon’s, Macey’s, Fresh Market, Costco, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts Farmers Market. Some did not respond to the inquiry at all while others said they did not have time or were not interested in an interview.

The Utah Food Industry Association and the Utah representative from United Food and Commercial Workers also declined requests for interviews to discuss vaccination of Utah grocery workers.

Independently-owned grocery stores, however, were willing to talk about their workers.

South End Market owner Jake Gaskin said he will let his workers choose whether or not they receive a vaccine.

Although his store is small in comparison to chain grocers, Gaskin said he has had no employees come to him with concerns about not being able to receive the vaccine.

While most grocery stores saw huge profits when the pandemic hit, Gaskin said his store lost a lot of business because many BYU students moved home.

Day’s Market in Provo had an increase in sales during the first few months of the pandemic. The biggest challenge for them has been procuring products because they are lower on the food chain than nationwide grocery corporations.

Day’s Market store director Brock Day said some of the topline management team has received hero pay and multiple other workers have received COVID-19 pay when they’ve tested positive.

He has not prioritized vaccination for his workers or given any incentives to be vaccinated.

Day said none of his employees have vocalized frustration in not receiving the vaccine, so he thinks it is OK that grocery workers were not specifically included in the vaccination plan.

In Utah’s vaccination rollout plan, vaccine eligibility is no longer based on type of employment but on age and medical conditions.

Utah Health Department spokesperson Jenny Johnson said those are the individuals who are at the highest risk of severe illness from the disease and deserve the vaccine first.

“For those who are so, so medically frail, they are the ones that need the vaccine first,” Johnson said. “Those are the people we have to help right now.”

If a grocery store worker falls under the eligibility requirements, then they can receive the vaccine. Grocers, however, will not be prioritized for vaccination based on their job exposing them to the virus, Johnson said.

“Its not about their exposure. It’s that they aren’t at risk for hospitalization or death,” she said.

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