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'These are essential people': Grocery store workers frustrated with Oregon's vaccine timeline

Grocery store workers will now have to compete with all adult Oregonians wanting a COVID-19 vaccine when they all become eligible May 1.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Grocery store employees have been essential workers during the entire pandemic, stocking food and working checkout lines while being exposed to thousands of people. So when they learned they'd be eligible for the vaccine May 1, it was a sigh of relief, but one they felt was long overdue.

“We've been pressuring the governor — asking, pleading with the governor —  to please move us forward in priority based off the CDC recommendations,” said Miles Eshaia, head of communications for United Food & Commercial Workers Local 555, Oregon's grocery workers union.

On Wednesday, Eshaia and the union's 19,000 members learned that now, every adult in Oregon age 16 and older will also be eligible for the vaccine May 1. The announcement came from the Oregon Health Authority and lines up with President Biden's order for all American adults to be vaccine-eligible by May 1, saying there would be enough doses. Eshaia said that's of little comfort to grocery workers.

“They have to compete to get an appointment, that's the challenge,” said Eshaia. “They have to compete with the entire state of Oregon … I don't want to say it's a slap in the face, that's a cliché, but it's very unfortunate.”

RELATED: OHA director says adults in Oregon will be eligible for vaccine by May 1

Grocery store workers in Washington don't have to wait until May 1 for their vaccine. They became eligible on March 17.

“We're happy!” said Howard Ross who works at a Fred Meyer store in Vancouver. The pandemic has been on his mind every day.

“It can be kind of scary because you don't know who has it and the things that you hear, and you don't want to take it home to your family,” said Ross. “Through it all, you have to do your job, so you just stay positive and keep your head up.”

Eshaia said in light of the state moving up universal vaccine eligibility, he hoped the governor would create a path prioritizing grocery workers. Gov. Brown's office tells KGW they are currently reevaluating Oregon's vaccine timelines and expect to have more information to share on Friday. They said the governor is committed to equitable distribution of vaccine, including for front-line workers. Oregon Health Authority (OHA) officials discussed possible prioritization on Wednesday.

“We may end up moving up front-line workers and those with pre-existing conditions so they have access to vaccine before the general population,” said OHA Director Patrick Allen.

Eshaia says practically speaking, that just makes sense, and he believes it's the right thing to do.

“These are essential people. They're not disposable, and they're being treated as such,” said Eshaia. “It's not okay.”

RELATED: Grocery store workers among 740K Washingtonians who just became eligible for vaccine

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