The New Zealand meat processing and exporting industry is urging the government to priortise its workforce for Covid-19 vaccinations.
Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association (MIA), said the processing sector was recognised as a high-risk industry for transmission of Covid-19 due to the large numbers of people working closely together.
Overseas many countries have had major outbreaks at meat plants. In the US, meat-processing facilities were linked to more than 38,000 cases and at least 180 deaths last year.
In Australia, they were also the major initial source of infections in Victoria's June "second wave".
Karapeeva said Australia and the United States have already prioritised meat processing workers for vaccination because Covid-19 spread extremely rapidly in processing plants.
"US research has found that processing plants acted as transmission vectors, accelerating the spread of the virus into the surrounding population. The New Zealand red meat industry took decisive action to proactively develop and implement safety protocols, which provide guidance and a minimum standard to enable our processors to continue safely operating," she said.
"However, there is no room for complacency. It is absolutely critical that we fortify our first line of defence, both for the safety and wellbeing of workers and communities and to safeguard the red meat sector's significant contribution to the New Zealand economy, which is now heavily reliant on our export revenue."
Most processors have nurses on site or arrangements with local medical centres so are well positioned to undertake large scale vaccination programmes quickly, she said.