JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - More than 120,000 Mississippians work in the restaurant and food service industry, but they and those who work in many other professions aren’t eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine.
“You either come to work every day, be at risk, or say, I’m not gonna do it. And now there’s an unemployment question. I’ve seen that happen on several occasions,” said Lance Gammill, general manager at Capitol Grill.
For Gammill’s business and others across the Magnolia State, servers work long hours, handle hundreds of customers, and take a chance every day that they, too, could get COVID-19.
“It’s one [thing] after the other. We got past the economic hardship of it. We got past not being able to find staff to work,” Gammill said. “Now, it’s a matter of, you know, let’s get past this last step.”
He and other restaurant owners have been voicing their pandemic-related frustrations for months to Pat Fontaine, who heads up the state’s restaurant and hospitality association.
Fontaine sent a letter to the governor in January, signed by those representing the Mississippi Tourism Association, the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association and the Mississippi Gaming Association.
“I was advised by Gov. [Tate] Reeves’ staff that, you know, they were going to adhere to the vaccination plan as determined by the CDC,” Fontaine said.
But are they?
Mississippi’s current vaccine eligibility requirements state anyone over 50 can get it. That age requirement is nowhere to be found in the CDC’s recommendations.
On Feb. 23, Reeves announced teachers and first responders would be eligible, too.
CDC recommendations state that grocery store workers and manufacturing workers should have been added then, too, but they weren’t.
Instead, Reeves’ office and the Mississippi State Department of Health have been picking and choosing which CDC recommendations to follow.
Fontaine said back in January, the Governor’s Office estimated restaurant and food service workers would be eligible by late April.
“There’s an entire industry, food service retail, who feels left out right now, because, you know, they’ve been put on the back burner. When in all reality, we’re the ones on the front lines every day,” Gammill said.
MSDH spokesperson Liz Sharlot said many restaurant and grocery store workers have already received their vaccine due to already existing broad guidelines for eligibility.
“As far as extending the guidelines, that is a decision that will be made based on several factors,” Sharlot said.
Reeves tweeted Friday that vaccine eligibility would be expanded soon, but did not offer additional details.