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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

2,500-Plus Get COVID-19 Vaccinations At Meatpacking Plants In Greeley And Fort Morgan Friday

A woman in gloves and a mask gives a man in a hard hat a shot in the right arm.
Alex McIntyre
Greeley Tribune pool photo
JBS employee Luis Arellano, left, receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Kaiser Permanente medical assistant Liz Negron, right, during a two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the JBS Greeley Beef plant in Greeley on March 5, 2021. The company will not run the plant during the vaccination event scheduled for Friday and Saturday. JBS employees who receive the vaccine at the plant will be given 4 hours of pay and a $100 bonus for receiving the vaccine.
Updated: March 9, 2021 at 2:26 PM MST
Updated with new information about total vaccinations during the clinic and the company's plans for a second clinic in late March.

The JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley is closed on Friday and Saturday as it turns into a two-day mass-vaccination clinic.

COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations began at 6 a.m. The clinic is set up in a long L-shaped hallway packed with JBS employees and clinic workers standing behind tables lining one wall. The workers go up to one of those tables, quickly get the shot administered in one of their arms and are given a vaccination card with a reminder to get their second dose in three weeks.

Workers are then sent to a cafeteria where they wait 15 minutes as a precautionary measure in case they experience adverse side effects. Then they go home.

Kaiser Permanente medical assistant Liz Negron realized yesterday was JBS employee Luis Arellano's birthday as she prepared to give him the shot. "What a present," she said gleefully.

Allerano was one of three workers whom reporters got to watch get vaccinated during a brief visit to the clinic Friday morning. None of the workers were able to be interviewed as they quickly got their shots and left the hallway.

The vaccination drive kicks off the state’s next vaccination phase, which includes grocery and agricultural workers, people over 60 and anyone with two or more pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.

The goal is to vaccinate around 5,000 JBS workers, according to Kim Cordova. She's president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 7, which represents many of the Greeley plant’s employees.

4,088 workers got their first shots during the two-day clinic, according to JBS. The company is planning to hold another clinic at the plant on March 26 and 27 so workers can get their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Workers who missed the first clinic will be able to get their initial doses of the vaccine that weekend as well.

“(The vaccination site) definitely is going to help mitigate any further loss of life in that plant,” said Cordova. “A lot of the workers have been waiting for this. We are disappointed that we weren't up at the front of the line here. But I'm glad that we are actually going to be able to start this process.”

Cordova was one of the people who got the vaccine when the site opened at 6 a.m., alongside other union leadership and the plant manager. She said she felt good after getting it and expects workers will feel more comfortable after getting theirs too.

"workers really need to get as much information as they can make their best decision
(about the vaccine) on their own," she said.

READ MORE: Uncertainty Swirls Around Vaccinating Colorado's Essential Workers, Including Whether Enough Will Even Want The Shots

JBS workers outside of the Greeley meatpacking plant, like its Denver facility employees and other Greeley-based non-office employees, are able to get vaccinated at the site as well.

"In many ways today is a celebration, but it's a celebration that is born out of many months of difficulty and suffering, of the loss of six workers," Gov. Jared Polis said during a press conference Friday. "About a month and a half from now, I'm proud to say that our hard-hit workers at our meat processing facilities will be fully protected from the deadly coronavirus."

This site comes almost a year after the plant’s first massive outbreak, according to the state. Since then, about 400 employees have been infected, including six deaths. The company was hit with a federal fine from the U.S. Occupational Health And Safety Administration (which it is appealing) and is now the subject of a congressional investigation, along with two other meatpacking companies.

When a reporter asked Polis to comment on the general quality of JBS' response to coronavirus outbreaks at the plant, he said it was not the time for "Monday
night quarterbacking."

"Today is the day for celebrating this modern triumph of science," Polis said. "There will be plenty of time for analysis and recommendations on how to do better."

JBS, UFCW Local 7 and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters worked with Gov. Polis’ office, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, local health officials and the National Guard to set up and run the site. Workers don’t have to be unionized to attend.

“We anticipate high participation rates for our Colorado workforce,” JBS spokesperson Nikki Richardson wrote in an email to KUNC. “To encourage maximum participation, we will not run the facility on Friday or Saturday and we will provide four hours of pay to any team member who chooses to be vaccinated. This is in addition to the $100 bonus we are providing to any team member who chooses to get vaccinated.”

A man in a blue hard hat gives the camera thumbs up after a woman with masks and gloves put a shot in his right arm
Alex McIntyre
The Greeley Tribune pool photo
JBS employee Enrique Estrada, right, flashes a thumbs-up to the media after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Kaiser Permanente medical assistant Liz Negron, left.

70% of a “representative sample” of workers JBS surveyed earlier this year indicated an interest in taking the vaccine, according to Richardson.

A PA system in the tunnel from the JBS parking lot to the plant blasted multilingual messages, including one about the $100 incentive the company is offering workers to get vaccinated.

“$100 isn't anything these days,” JBS meatpacking worker Anthony Martinez said with a chuckle just a few weeks before the vaccination site was announced. He was planning to get vaccinated anyway because "it's the right thing to do.”

Workers signed up for a time slot to get vaccinated in advance. Translators were on site to help non-English-speaking workers through the process. About three-quarters of the workers who signed up for a vaccination time slot showed up for their appointment, according to Richardson.

"I thought it was going to be painful but I didn't feel anything at all," said Dahir Omar about his 6 a.m. shot. He works at the plant, but not on the lines as he's a UFCW 7 business agent or "union rep."

"We went through a lot last year," he said. "I think (workers) will be a lot safer now than before."

JBS says it has been trying to convince workers the vaccine is safe and worth taking through multilingual texts, meetings and flyers.

“We're setting up some communication teams in the hallways or cafeterias just to go over information and answer questions that our teammates might have,” said Tim Schellpeper, president of JBS’ Fed Beef Business Unit, which includes the Greeley plant.

As of 1:30 p.m. Friday, a JBS spokesperson said a total of around 2,545 people had been vaccinated.

A vaccination site for Cargill meatpacking plant workers in Fort Morgan also began Friday morning at a local Marathon Health clinic that is a short walk from the plant. Gov. Polis visited that vaccine site on Friday morning as well.

As KUNC’s rural and small communities reporter, I help further the newsroom’s efforts to ensure that all of Northern Colorado’s communities are heard.
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