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VIDEO: White House COVID Advisor Joins Vaccine Townhall on African-American Vaccine Access, Need to Eliminate Barriers

May 28, 2021 Updated: June 1, 2021

Union for 1.3 Million Essential Food and Retail Workers Spotlights Vaccine Access Barriers for UFCW’s 400,000 Workers of Color on Pandemic Frontlines

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union for 1.3 million essential food and retail workers — including more than 400,000 workers of color, announced it partnered with the White House and health experts on a new UFCW vaccine townhall, the union’s latest effort to close the vaccine gap for Black essential workers and all workers of color. 

The UFCW vaccine townhall for essential workers highlighted vaccine barriers facing the Black community and featured White House COVID Senior Advisor Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith. African-Americans are only 9 percent of U.S. vaccinationsdespite representing 14 percent of the total U.S. population

This townhall builds on UFCW’s national vaccine education campaign for essential workers, which has included digital vaccine education outreach as well as ongoing vaccine clinics to reach workers of color in California, Arizona, Nevada,Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and many other states. Click here to watch full video of the UFCW vaccine townhall

White House COVID Senior Advisor Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith addressed a wide range of vaccine barriers and concerns facing the Black community

Community Access: “From the beginning of the Biden-Harris administration, equity was at the center of the pandemic response. The vast majority of over 60 percent of vaccinations delivered through mass vaccination sites in community health centers have gone to people of color. We work closely with community health centers and are seeing closer to 70 percent of vaccinations at community health centers going to people of color. In the past few weeks, around 50 percent of vaccines from the pharmacy program are going to people of color.

Technology and Transportation: “We know that 25 percent of people in the country don’t have smartphones and so we’re also thinking through transportation solutions. We’re continuing to make sure we are removing any barriers that might be standing in the way of people who just need that opportunity to get connected with vaccination. 

Paid Time Off: “It’s important that employers step up and prioritize the safety of employees, making sure that employees can get vaccinated or can get paid time off to get vaccinated so that it’s not a barrier. President Biden has made available through the American Rescue Plan a tax credit for small and medium-sized businesses. I want everybody here to know that small and medium-sized businesses can get a tax credit for giving employees time off not just to get vaccinated but to recover from side effects if needed. The president has called on large employers to offer paid time off as well and that’s critical. 

Vaccine Hesitancy: “We are in a war against misinformation that is targeting many of our communities deliberately and events like this are opportunities that we have to set the record straight. Some people do feel some of these institutions have earned distrust. African Americans, people of color have been kept away from scientific discovery and haven’t been able to benefit from scientific knowledge. And here we have this opportunity where we can change that.”

The UFCW vaccine townhall also featured John Hopkins Medicine Professor Dr. Sherita Hill GoldenMaryland Partnership for Prevention Executive Director Tiffany Tate, MHS, and UFCW Civil Rights & Community Action DirectorLaQuita Honeysucker.

John Hopkins Medicine Professor & Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Sherita Hill Golden: “Many of us in the Black community have concerns about experiences we’ve had in the health care system. But at the same time, I just want to emphasize that it is better to be on the prevention side of this pandemic and not on the treatment side.”

Maryland Partnership for Prevention Executive Director Tiffany Tate: “Our community has been disproportionately impacted. Nearly every African-American, nearly every Latinx person knows someone who became severely ill or died from COVID-19. When you look at children in the inner city and urban areas, the impact of this pandemic has been terrible on our community. I can appreciate why people are hesitant because it seems like it’s something new and untested, but vaccines have been tested and proven to be even more effective than we ever imagined.

UFCW Civil Rights & Community Action Director LaQuita Honeysucker: “Our community needs to know these vaccines are safe, effective and will be accessible to all of the essential workers. Many are still hesitant about the vaccine and that hesitancy is rooted in a complicated history, but we do not want that history to prevent anyone from getting the life-saving vaccine.”


UFCW has been a leading national voice for frontline workers. UFCW represents over 400,000 workers of color and has highlighted the fact that its members are essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants who are disproportionately workers of color.

Black and brown retail workers already faced large disparities in pay, scheduling, and advancement in their workplaces before the current crisis. These workers also make up a disproportionate number of workers in jobs with the highest injury risks. 

More than 80 percent of Black workers and 83% of Latinx workers are unable to work from home, further highlighting the heightened risk these workers and communities face on the frontlines as the pandemic continues.

COVID NUMBERS: UFCW recently confirmed that COVID-19 continues to threaten essential food workers nationwide. Since March 1, UFCW reports a nearly 30 percent increase in grocery worker deaths and a 24 percent increase in grocery workers infected or exposed following supermarket outbreaks at Whole FoodsCostcoTrader Joe’s and other chains across the country. According to new UFCW estimates, among the union’s members nationwide, there have already been at least:

  • 462 frontline worker deaths and at least 93,300 frontline workers infected or exposed
  • 184 grocery worker deaths and at least 41,700 grocery workers infected or exposed 
  • 132 meatpacking worker deaths and 22,290 meatpacking workers infected or exposed


UFCW International is the largest private sector union in the United States. UFCW International represents 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org

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