WORTHINGTON — Nearly a year after COVID-19 swept through the Worthington JBS plant — the community's largest employer — hundreds of local workers were inoculated against the virus Friday during a vaccine clinic at the facility.
Organizing a mass vaccination required months of legwork, UFCW Local 663 President Matt Utecht said.
Union members and JBS management collaborated to make sure employees were informed about the vaccine in their many spoken languages. They helped people pre-register for the vaccine clinic and, as of Friday morning, about 1,650 people had already signed up.
"We wanted to hold the vaccination clinic on site at our facility to maximize the voluntary participation rate among our team members and remove barriers to getting vaccinated," said Nikki Richardson, a corporate communications official with JBS USA.
Organizers created a streamlined process that didn't slow down production. A section of the plant was designated for vaccinations and workers were pulled off the floor, a few from each line at a time, to receive their vaccines. Tables were set up for about a dozen different languages, each with a translator to make sure every worker understood the paperwork and process.
UFCW and JBS secured eight medical professionals from Sanford Health to come onsite and administer the vaccines. After each worker received their shot, they were directed to the cafeteria to wait 15 minutes in case of an allergic reaction. While waiting, they could scan QR codes that directed them to a link to receive $100 — an incentive JBS offered to each employee who was vaccinated.
Utecht spent the morning onsite observing the event.
"It was a continuous stream of people," he said.
Eight hundred workers were vaccinated before noon, and JBS and UFCW hoped to give shots to at least 2,000 total. The vaccine clinic was to continue through the evening to make sure everyone who wanted a shot could get one.
Around 1,700 of the vaccine doses given Friday were the Johnson & Johnson brand, which doesn't require a second dose. The rest were Moderna, so JBS and UFCW will have to keep track of those employees who are due for their second shot in about a month. The company will also ensure that any workers who were on vacation Friday are also given the opportunity to be vaccinated.
"People were excited to be vaccinated," Utecht said. As he walked through the facility, "I saw no angst or fear in anyone's face."
Added Utecht: "The reason this was such a success is because of the cooperation of the parties and the relationship between the union and JBS."
JBS employees have suffered significantly as a result of COVID-19, so it was gratifying for Utecht to see so many of them get their vaccines. Local workers were among the first to contract COVID-19 in Nobles County, with almost half of JBS Worthington getting the virus at some point. They have lost income in the last year and watched loved ones die from COVID.
Despite how hard the pandemic has been, "they've been keeping America fed," Utecht said.
Many other community members were able to be vaccinated this week, as well, thanks to Nobles County Public Health.
A vaccine clinic was set up Thursday and Friday at Memorial Auditorium, with Public Health offering about 200 vaccines each day to people who fall within Phase 1b, tiers 2 and 3 in the state vaccine rollout schedule. This included people with certain underlying health conditions and specific classes of essential workers.
Those vaccinated through the county received the Moderna vaccine, and they will be due back for their second dost next month.