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AZ essential workers still waiting for COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 11:00 AM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 21:30:31-05

PHOENIX — Many essential workers in Arizona who thought they would be next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine must now wait even longer.

The Arizona Department of Health Services announced it will be rolling out vaccinations by age. Currently, those aged 55 and older are eligible.

But those who are under 55 years of age and working in grocery stores and other parts of the food industry have concerns.

Catherine Chacon is a grocery store employee and member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99. She says over the past month, more customers have stopped following guidelines while shopping.

“Just to see people’s personalities change, like customers sometimes they’re in there more without wearing the mask or they have it below their nose or under their chin or there’s a few that go in there without wearing a mask at all,” Chacon said. “I am immunocompromised, so I have multiple sclerosis. I have to really make sure I take care of myself.”

Jose Platas is an employee at JBS Meat Process Facility in Tolleson. He says he got COVID-19 in May, during the time when the state had some of its highest outbreaks.

The facility never shut down. A union representative told ABC15 they had about 200 cases during that time, but things have slowed down, and safety precautions are now in place to keep workers safe.

However, Platas says he will feel better once he gets vaccinated.

“I feel frustrated because I come here every day for my family and I don’t want to get the virus again,” he said. “I don’t want to get sick again and neither does anyone here. Nobody wants to get sick, but it has happened and like I said, we all believe we are essential. We were told that and we’re here every day.”

“Our workers working in stores range from 16-80. Certainly, while those over 55 are now eligible, there’s a huge portion of our grocery store population workers that are not getting the vaccine and are not only potentially exposing themselves but could potentially be spreaders and that needs to be taken into consideration,” said UFCW Local 99 President Jim McLaughlin.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said it will be up to individual counties to implement employer-based vaccination strategies.

AZDHS also gave ABC15 an information graphic, clarifying what an essential worker is.

It includes grocery store workers, postal workers and transportation workers.

It says those between 45 and 54 years old will more than likely have to wait until at least April to receive a vaccination at a state-run site, then ages 35-44 will come in May.