By Randy Gordon, President and CEO
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Dec. 16 reissued and “repromoted” its “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce Guidance Version 4.0,” encouraging states and localities to take it into consideration when developing and executing plans for prioritizing the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“As the nation continues to respond to the pandemic, it is important that considerations regarding essential critical infrastructure workers continue to inform response policies and activities,” wrote DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which developed and issued the guidance. “The ability of these workers to perform their jobs safely is critical to our nation’s ability to maintain resilience of national critical functions.
“As the nation enters a new phase of pandemic response where vaccines are available in very limited supply, and where infection rates are driving the continued application of public health measures in communities, we encourage state and local health officials to use this guidance to support COVID-19 vaccine prioritization planning,” CISA continued. “This version is intended to help state, local, tribal, and territorial officials and organizations protect their workers and communities, and ensure the continued safe and secure operation of critical infrastructure. The guidance identifies the universe of essential workers that may require specialized risk management strategies to help them work safely.”
The DHS/CISA guidance document’s contents, which NGFA was involved heavily in helping draft with officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture, are unchanged from the version issued on Aug. 18. It includes a wide range of essential critical infrastructure workers in the food and agriculture sector. These include employees involved in grain elevator; feed, pet food and ingredient manufacturing; grain and oilseed processing and milling; biofuels; and export elevator operations.
As reported in the Dec. 4 NGFA Newsletter, the NGFA on Dec. 1 helped author a letter signed by 25 national food and agricultural organizations to the National Governors Association, as well as President Trump and President-elect Biden, commending the expedited development and emergency use authorizations of COVID-19 vaccines under Operation Warp Speed, and encouraging governors to follow federal guidance for essential critical infrastructure workers when developing their vaccine prioritization plans. The two-page letters noted that including front-line workers in the food and agriculture sectors in the second-highest priority (after health care workers, those living in long-term care facilities and emergency responders) for vaccinations was consistent with recommendations issued by both the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine, as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook.
However, it is the governors, in consultation with state health agencies and local officials, who ultimately are responsible for developing vaccination prioritization plans for their states. Importantly, most states have followed the DHS/CISA guidance when designating essential critical infrastructure workers. Thus, the agency’s “re-promoting” of its guidance serves as an important reminder and encouragement to the states to continue doing so.
FDA later today is expected to grant emergency use authorization for a second vaccine – developed and manufactured by Moderna – following the Dec. 17 recommendation that it do so from the agency’s independent advisory committee.