As the COVID-19 vaccine roll out across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending federal, state, and local jurisdictions take a staggered approach to vaccinating Americans that prioritizes those who are at greater risk of contracting and spreading the infection. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ initial recommendation, released Dec. 3, has given first priority to health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities. On Dec. 20, the CDC met and decided that “frontline essential workers” should be next in line for the vaccine (phase “1b”), along with people aged 75 and over.

The Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Administration designated recycling as essential early in the pandemic, meaning recycling workers could be included among the next round of priority vaccinations. However, ACIP has distinguished between “frontline essential workers,” which it defines as “workers who are in sectors essential to the functioning of society and are at substantially higher risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” and “other essential workers,” whom ACIP recommends for the following round of vaccinations (phase “1c”). Frontline workers include a population of approximately 30 million people, including first responders, educators, and grocery store workers, ACIP says. There are close to 57 million “other essential workers,” including in the legal, food service, and finance industries.

While manufacturing workers are considered “frontline essential workers,” workers in transportation and logistics, construction, public safety, and wastewater are considered “other essential workers,” per a PowerPoint presentation ACIP prepared for the Dec. 20 meeting. The document does not directly address recycling workers.

On Dec. 15, ISRI submitted a letter to José Romero, chair of ACIP, and Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, in support of the phased vaccination approach. The letter emphasizes recycling’s key role in the supplying the manufacturing sector and residential recycling’s support of local governments in providing collection and processing of communities’ recyclable materials. “The vaccination of workers within the recycling industry will thus not only protect the employees but will also allow recyclers to maintain the full menu of essential services they provide for U.S. communities and manufacturers,” ISRI President Robin Wiener writes in the letter.

Although ACIP makes recommendations for vaccine prioritization, states make the ultimate decision in how to allocate doses. Many industries have begun lobbying efforts to include their workers among the early rounds of vaccination priority, the New York Times reports.

ISRI will continue build on these achievements in 2021. Members and other industry stakeholders can look forward to the trade association’s advocacy agenda to be release at the end of January 2021.