October25, 2021 — Gov. Inslee’s plan to require COVID-19 vaccinations — but notest-out options —for all employees in businesses with 100+ workers couldjeopardize access to fresh food and other essential goods according to grocery andconvenience store industry representatives.
Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of the Washington FoodIndustry Association (WFIA) said the governor’s plan would seriously jeopardizethe industry’s ability to supply stores and customers with reliable access tofood and other products. WFIA represents independent grocers, distributors andconvenience stores in Washington state.
“WFIA continues to be pro-vaccine and has been adamant aboutthe importance of vaccines in the fight against COVID. Grocery stores andconvenience stores were on the leading edge of the COVID-19 vaccination effort— creating clinics for customers and employees to easily access the vaccines —and we continue to offer access to those vaccines for all who request them. Ourconcern is that that this mandate affects the entire food supply chain, whichcontinues to struggle with staffing challenges for a variety of reasons,” saidHetrick. “Taking away the testing option will affect every step in the processof delivering food to our tables: the farmers and growers who produce it, thewarehouse workers who stock and distribute food, the truck drivers whotransport it, and our stores who stock it and sell to the consumer,” she said.
“We’ve already seen the impact of closing distributioncenters, especially in rural areas. When the local grocery store’s shelves arebare, this means shoppers must travel an hour or more to shop for groceries.This is particularly hard on those receiving state assistance – WIC and SNAPprogram participants — for whom transportation is already a challenge,” sheadded. “This will likely mean more bare shelves and product shortages sincethere will not be staff available to restock or supply stores.”
Hetrick said the industry wants to avoid any situation thatwould inadvertently create food shortages or food deserts — where there is noaccess to fresh, healthy food — which is entirely possible without a testingoption for employees.
“The food industry has already proven we can work safely. Wehave to find solutions that will allow those that cannot be vaccinated, or who choosenot to, to continue to work without putting added pressure on the state’s laborshortage and food supply chain,” added Hetrick.
“Grocery and convenience stores continue to provide safeshopping environments thanks to extensive cleaning protocols and increased vaccinationsamong staff and customers. But not everyone in the food supply chain can bevaccinated, and that could directly impact the delivery of food to peopleacross Washington,” said Hetrick.
“Our food supply chain was fragile before the pandemic. Thiswill only place more stress on the system. COVID-19 has created new challengesin the effort to keep fresh food on our tables.”