Truckers Seek Access to Early Vaccines

Truckers Seek Access to Early Vaccines
Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association (Michael Pirnique)

Truck drivers proved their worth during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when the supply chain kept delivering essential goods to the public.

Now the American Trucking Associations in Washington, D.C., is lobbying to ensure the nation’s drivers aren’t forgotten where the coronavirus vaccine is concerned.

Bill Sullivan, the ATA’s vice president of advocacy, sent a letter to various federal departments calling for truck drivers to be officially categorized as essential workers when determining their place in the vaccination line.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended Dec. 1 that while supply of the vaccine is limited it should be offered first to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. These groups are considered Phase 1a, but there is a queue of folks trying to get into Phase 1b.

The ACIP is a 15-member committee selected by the secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services that makes vaccine recommendations. It is currently chaired by Arkansas Health Secretary Jose Romero and consists of experts in various medical fields.

Sullivan wrote a letter, dated Dec. 1, to the ACIP, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and President-Elect Joe Biden detailing the organization’s argument for truck drivers. A copy of the letter was also sent to the National Governors Association, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, the chairman, and Arkansas’ own Asa Hutchinson, the NGA’s vice-chair.

“Our workforce represents a central and critical link in the nation’s supply chain, and will play an essential role in the imminent COVID-19 vaccine distribution process,” Sullivan wrote. “As the trucking industry is called upon to deliver vaccines across the country, it is imperative that truck drivers have prioritized access to the vaccine to minimize the potential for supply chain delays and disruptions.”

Shannon Newton, the president of the Arkansas Trucking Association in Little Rock, said she is confident that drivers will be included in the second tier of vaccinations. Sullivan wrote in his letter that more than 80% of United States communities rely solely on truck traffic to supply goods and materials.

“We all got to see firsthand and learned in March as the trucking industry was identified as essential during that part of the pandemic,” Newton said. “Without trucks continuing to move the essentials people need, whether people are healthy or whether they are seeking a vaccine or sheltering at home, they continue to rely on [trucks for] life’s necessities.”

Newton said no one disputes prioritizing health care workers and long-term residents for the first round of vaccines. But there already is a shortage of truck drivers nationally and it wouldn’t make sense to risk losing more when the vaccine, and other important cargo, is at stake. “The supply chain is critical, whether you’re talking about distributing a vaccine or distributing medicine,” Newton said. “A lot of people rely on medicine other than a vaccine. ... No matter what it is you’re looking for, highly sensitive or well known, the trucking industry certainly needs to be considered as essential and needs to be considered as a high priority.”

The distribution of the vaccine is itself a logistics challenge. There will be millions of doses, not all at once, but they have to be transported at well-below-freezing temperature — think North Pole cold — or the vaccine could spoil.

Many transportation companies are already gearing up for the challenge, making sure cold-storage trailers and warehouses are in place.

Truck drivers were deemed essential workers early in the pandemic. Sullivan writes the same is true now. “Just as efforts were necessary to support prioritized distribution of PPE to the dedicated professionals who ensure the continuity of our nation’s supply chain, we must now focus our efforts to ensure that these same critical infrastructure workers have prioritized access to the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available,” Sullivan wrote.