Covid-19: Calls for NI meat plant workers to be prioritised in vaccine roll-out

A key Stormont committee has urged Northern Ireland’s Health Minister to ensure meat-processing sector workers are prioritised in plans to roll-out Covid-19 vaccinations.

Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer, who chairs the region’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (AERA) Committee, said: “Meat processing plants are a crucial part of our food supply chain and have experienced significant challenges throughout the world as a result of Covid-19 outbreaks.

During the lockdowns of 2020, people have developed a greater appreciation of how vital it is to have a secure supply of food in the local shops.

“This consistency of supply is thanks to key workers such as those employed in food processing plants. I believe they should be prioritised, along with other key workers, when rolling out the vaccine.”

The AERA Committee chairman added: “When the request from NIMEA came before the committee last week, we unanimously agreed to ask the DAERA Minister to take forward the matter with the Health Minister.

In the south of Ireland meat plant workers are included on the priority list for vaccination and I believe that we need a similar approach here in the north.

“This sector is very vulnerable to Covid-19 outbreaks, so these workers deserve to be prioritised for their own health and well-being and for the significant benefits the meat processing sector brings to society as a whole.”

Approach in the Republic

Essential food supply workers are listed at 10th on the Republic of Ireland’s priority list.

The Irish Government’s Provisional Vaccine Allocation Groups list states the group has a high risk of exposure as [it is] unable to work without physical distancing.

“The principle of minimising harm is upheld by reducing societal and economic disruption and the principle of reciprocity recognises the additional risk these groups bear in order to provide essential services,” it adds.