OLYMPIA — Farmworkers and food processing workers younger than 50 will be able to get inoculated for COVID at the same time as their older co-workers, according to Washington’s new vaccination plan.
Previously, agricultural workers over 50 had priority over younger colleagues, potentially delaying vaccinations for most farmworkers into late spring or summer.
A grower who sets up a vaccination clinic will now be able to immunize all workers at the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee’s spokeswoman said in an email Wednesday.
“The change was made to allow for flexibility and ultimately efficiency of the delivery of vaccines,” she said.
The revision increases chances that farmworkers will be widely vaccinated by early spring, but it’s unknown when the shots will be available.
The state made a “Phase 1A” priority of vaccinating health-care workers and nursing home residents.
The state moved Monday into “Phase 1B, Tier 1,” allocating doses to people over 65 and people over 50 in multigenerational households.
Farmworkers and workers in food processing plants won’t be eligible for shots until the state moves into the next stage, “Phase 1B, Tier 2.”
“It’s going to take us several weeks,” Health Secretary Umair Shah said. “We have health-care workers who are still getting vaccinated, so that process is going to continue.”
Shah said the state will try to move through the phases as quickly as possible. “But I think we have to remind ourselves that vaccine supply also will be a challenge for us,” he said.
Some 1.5 million Washington residents are now eligible for vaccinations. The state is receiving 100,000 doses a week, according to health officials.
At a press conference Monday, Inslee said he expected vaccine production to increase, but predicted a frustrating wait for people used to quick delivery of consumer products.
“There’s an unlimited number of tennis shoes people can buy, but there’s not an unlimited number of doses we can buy right now,” he said.
Farmworkers and food processing workers are categorized as “high-risk essential workers” because they are near co-workers for extended periods.
The new vaccination schedule also speeds up inoculations for younger corrections officers, bus drivers, firefighters, police officers and social workers.