- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that foodservice workers be included in round 1c of the coronavirus vaccination distribution under the "other essential workers" designation, according to a CDC presentation released Sunday. Transportation, construction, finance, energy and media employees are also listed under the CDC's "other essential workers" category. As part of 1c, these workers would be in the second round of inoculations after healthcare workers.
- The CDC didn't provide an expected vaccine deployment timeline, but foodservice workers would have to wait behind 21 million U.S residents aged 75 and older and 30 million frontline essential workers, including food manufacturing workers, according to the agency's presentation.
- The National Restaurant Association urged the U.S. government in July to prioritize food supply chain workers and restaurant workers to "help us maintain a safe and secure supply chain from farm to table." But essential worker prioritization for the vaccine is determined by state governments, so the vaccine's impact on the restaurant industry will likely differ across the country.
The CDC's guidance leaves many questions unanswered, including how states will divvy up these vaccinations, especially if their definitions of "other essential workers" differ from the agency's recommendations. But having restaurant workers quickly vaccinated could be key to help the segment, especially with little aid available to the industry, Texas Restaurant Association CEO Emily Knight told the Dallas Morning News.
With restaurant staff working closely with the public each day, and unable to work from home, many have feared exposure. John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association, told 10 WBNS restaurants are essential and, without restaurant employees on the job, restaurants will continue to suffer.
A potential thorny situation is whether restaurant employers will require vaccinations as a term of employment, which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers can do — with some exceptions — in a Dec. 16 guidance. This requirement could be difficult and expensive for employees who don't qualify for health benefits. But Tom Bene, CEO and president of the National Restaurant Association, told Restaurant Business the government should pay for vaccination expenses. The ORA said it is considering guidance on how to address this employment requirement.
Another issue at hand is ongoing indoor dining restrictions, especially as the industry continues to follow safety standards and measures and adjust operations to create safe environments. There is no guarantee that these restrictions would be lifted for good once the majority of restaurant workers were inoculated, especially since a majority of diners won't likely receive the vaccine until later in 2021.