Tyson Foods mandates COVID-19 vaccines for employees – raising the safety bar for industry

The mandate comes weeks after the Government Accountability Office took USDA to task for not stepping up oversight of worker safety at meat and poultry packing facilities, and more than a year after Tyson temporarily shuttered its Waterloo meat packing plant due to a COVID-19 outbreak – a move that was followed by temporary closures of other meat packing facilities owned by Smithfield Foods and JBS Foods, which also experienced outbreaks early in the pandemic.

Smithfield Foods and JBS Foods have not indicated whether they will mandate employees receive the coronavirus vaccine, but a handful of other food and beverage industry players have. Among them is Walmart, which will require them for corporate employees but not hourly workers at stores – a distinction that could be a nod to ongoing labor shortages and fear of employee backlash or scaring away potential employees.

‘Nothing is more important than our team members’ health’

While labor shortages are a significant risk for many in the food and beverage industry, Tyson’s declaration suggests this threat does not measure up to the one posed by the coronavirus and its variants.

“As people have heard, new variants of COVID-19 are more contagious, more deadly and responsible for most cases in America today. In some communities, doctors and hospitals are once again overwhelmed, while the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting nearly all hospitalizations and deaths in the US are among those who are unvaccinated,”​ Donnie King, president and CEO at Tyson Foods, said in an open letter to employees.

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