Meat workers to be some of the first to receive vaccine

VACCINE: Teys workers have been nominated to receive the COVID-19 vaccine early on.
VACCINE: Teys workers have been nominated to receive the COVID-19 vaccine early on.

Teys workers will be some of the first in line for the COVID-19 vaccine, when it rolls out this year.

Vaccinations against coronavirus are expected to begin mid-February, and meat workers, along with emergency workers have been pinpointed in phase 1B of the government's national rollout phases.

In Phase 1a, quarantine and border workers, frontline health care worker sub-groups for prioritisation, aged care and disability care staff and aged care and disability care residents will be first up to receive the vaccine.

This will be followed by phase 1b, which will cover elderly adults aged 70 years and over, other health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people older than 55, younger adults with an underlying medical condition, including those with a disability, critical and high risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing.

Teys General Manager Industry and Corporate Affairs.John Langbridge said he was pleased that meat workers were a high priority, as a single positive case would shut down production.

"It is good news, but we know our place, obviously frontline health workers and aged care homes are a higher priority than we are," he said.

"Our issue has always been that if it gets into our facility, our official policy is that if we get one positive any of our plants, that plant will shut, we will move the cattle elsewhere so we keep processing for our customers, and then we basically test everyone.

"What we think will happen if we keep going is that it will allow more chance for the virus to transmit. We are thinking we won't be lucky enough to have the first case in the plant detected, it's likely to be a couple of transmissions on. So our main focus is to keep the workers healthy, don't let it spread, shut the plant, move the kill around, test everyone, and when the test results come back then we work out when we reopen."

"That is why we are very keen on the vaccine - the vaccine gives people a pretty strong level of protection against it getting in in the first place.

"We are very happy we are on the priority list, we are watching development overseas with a great deal of interest."

However, he said choosing to get the vaccine would be up to the employees.

"We are taking the view that we are not going to insist on anyone getting vaccinated," he said.

"In a sense, we are taking the herd immunity approach - as long as we get enough people, that will probably be enough to protect everybody.

"At the start of all this we offered the flu vaccine free of charge because we thought that might remove a degree of confusion if there was an outbreak, and we had a 70% uptake on that voluntarily.

"We are pretty confident the vaccine will be fairly effective, we are confident we'll get a fairly big uptake."

Mr Longbridge said the company had done their best to ensure their staff stayed healthy during the pandemic, including introducing face-coverings, putting in extra amenities to space people out in production areas and temperature testing everyone on the way in.

"We really need a healthy workforce to keep working - that doesn't mean trying to work through it, it means trying to avoid it at all cost to keep everyone healthy," he said.

"Once it gets into your premises, you are looking at virtually two weeks of no work.

"If you get the very first case, then great, then you are only shut for a few days, but if you keep trying to work, that exposes more workers, then more people are sick, then you don't work for longer while you wait for everyone to get better.

"It not only protects workers, but we think it's a smart thing from a business point of view.

"It's a hard decision to make initially but one you've got to take."

The Australian government is hopeful that a potential vaccine will be available from mid-to-late February.