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Front-line workers with health conditions react to new Oregon vaccination timeline

A union representing many Oregon grocery store employees said the state again put these workers at "the back of the line."

OREGON, USA — With the new announcement that Oregon will begin prioritizing people with underlying health conditions and people who are front-line essential workers, some in those groups have mixed reactions.  

Margaret Gerrans is an employee at New Seasons Market in Portland.

"I love the people I work with. I care about my coworkers," Gerrans said.

Grocery store employees like her have been on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic for about a year.

"There are a lot of people ... that are worn kind of ragged at this point," she said.

Essential workers cannot work from home, having to face crowds, anti-maskers, and potential COVID-19 exposure in person.

On March 29, the following groups will become eligible for the COVID vaccine in Oregon:

  • Adults age 45 to 64 with underlying health conditions as defined by the CDC
  • Seasonally-impacted front-line workers, such as migrant seasonal farm workers, seafood and agricultural workers and food processing workers 
  • Currently displaced victims of the September 2020 wildfires 
  • Wildland firefighters 
  • People living in low-income and congregate senior housing 
  • Individuals experiencing houselessness

Then by May 1, the following groups will become eligible:

  • All other front-line workers as defined by the CDC (the Oregonian reports that this includes grocery story employees, restaurant and bar staff, retail store employees, bus drivers, construction workers and government employees)
  • Individuals age 16-45 with underlying health conditions
  • Multigenerational household members

RELATED: 'They'll contact you': Oregon changes vaccination scheduling process for Portland metro area

Gerrans said front-line workers are still the last to be prioritized before the general population.

"It isn't any better than it was yesterday, except there's now a date attached to it," Gerrans said. "It goes from a slap in the face to kind of a gut punch."

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 represents tens of thousands of grocery workers in Oregon. In a news release it said Gov. Kate Brown's announcement about the vaccine priority timeline "once again abandoned these workers to the back of the line."

Restaurant and bar staff will also be included in Oregon's essential worker designation.

Sean Sexton owns Ovation Bistro in Milwaukie. He's also a cancer survivor at greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection.

"Nothing could be soon enough of course," Sexton said. "But I'm happy to wait my turn and I will remain vigilant until that time." 

Gerrans expressed concern vaccine supply may not cover all people with underlying conditions and the subsequent group of essential workers.

"Sort of like when a concert lets out all at once and everybody rushes the door," Gerrans said. "Now is not the time to do that."

She said essential workers should have been considered before educators, who have been able to work from home.

"I want teachers to get vaccinated just like the rest of us, but they shouldn't be rushing the gate either," Gerrans said.

RELATED: VERIFY: Are fully vaccinated people still getting COVID-19?

The video attached to this article aired on Jan. 27, 2021, after the original article was written.