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As COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out, many ponder who should get them next

Essential Workers Vaccination
Posted at 12:27 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 14:57:41-05

CHICAGO, Ill. — We're just days into the vaccination of front-line health care workers and many are asking, who’s next? States are beginning to roll out their plans, but timing is still very much in the air.

For the last nine months, the check-out lines at grocery stores have not slowed.

“We took one day off,” said Barbara Eastman, the owner of Happy Foods, a family-owned grocery store on Chicago’s northwest side. “We took off Easter Sunday. We closed the store and said everybody's got to take a break.”

Essential workers like grocery store staff have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to keep the shelves stocked and Americans fed. In many cases, they’ve taken on great risks themselves.

Grocery store worker John Wipperfurth came down with the coronavirus, despite taking every precaution.

“I just took a little time off and came back a little more cautious afterwards,” he said. “But I was cautious before. That was the real scary part.”

In fact, researchers at Harvard University recently found that supermarket workers who had direct contact with customers were about five times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their colleagues who didn’t interact with customers.

It’s one reason experts like Lori Post says essential workers should be a priority following health care workers. Post is the director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and she's an emergency medicine professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“They can't work remotely. They must show up to work. They need to be vaccinated. They're high up on the priority list,” said Post.

Right now, across the country, front-line healthcare workers and long-term care facilities are at the top of the list. But Post says groups like factory workers, correctional officers, inmates and disproportionately affected communities of color should be prioritized ahead of healthy adults.

The exact timeline for when the general public could get vaccinated is difficult to pin down. Additional emergency approvals could accelerate a potential summer roll-out to healthy people. But even after the vaccine is widely available and a distribution plan is in place, it will likely take months more before restrictions are eased.

“Best case scenario, next summer, middle of summer, end of summer, that we're going to be able to have enough vaccines,” said Post.

And, for those who have worked hard to keep the economy going, like Barbara Eastman and her employees, they are still ready and waiting in line.

“Most of us are looking forward to being vaccinated and being safe and being part of that group that's gonna make everybody safe.”