Tyson Foods said vaccination events are scheduled this week at a number of its plants around the country, including the poultry processing plant in Noel.

It also expanded its COVID-19 vaccination program to all employees in Arkansas; the company said 20% of its U.S. workforce is based that state. More than 1,200 employees were vaccinated last week at Tyson sites in Fayetteville and Springdale, Arkansas.

Tom Brower, senior vice president of health and safety for Tyson Foods, said in a statement: “We’re focused on educating and encouraging our team members to be vaccinated and will continue to leverage both onsite events and our relationships with local health departments to make the vaccine easily accessible.”

The vaccines are provided in conjunction with Matrix Medical, local health departments and other health care providers where food processing workers are among the priority groups now eligible for vaccination.

Tyson said that in the past two weeks, 15,000 of its U.S. employees have been vaccinated at 30 events across the country. 

Tyson also has a large poultry processing plant in Monett, but no information was provided about vaccinations at that site. The Noel plant was the site of an outbreak last year as hundreds of workers tested positive for COVID-19.

The Springdale company also said last month that it will compensate workers for up to four hours of regular pay if they are vaccinated outside of their normal shift or through an external source. 

Tyson also has taken a series of other protective measures since the pandemic hit, including walk-through temperature scanners, workstation dividers, testing and plant sanitization. The company also expanded its health services staff, created the position of a chief medical officer and said it plans to create health clinics for team members and their families this year.

COVID-19 has so far cost Tyson Foods $660 million, according to the company's quarterly reports — $540 million for the fiscal year that ended Oct. 3, 2020, and $120 million in the first quarter of its current fiscal year. That includes costs associated with worker health and availability, plant downtime, costs for personal protective equipment, plant sanitization, COVID-19 testing, as well as bonuses the company said it paid to front-line employees. Some of those costs can be partially offset by Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act credits.

Tyson said last year that it had "likely been involved in more testing than any other company in the country."

Last month, the United Food and Commercial Workers International union, which represents many Tyson employees, pushed for workers at processing and meatpacking plants to be moved up vaccination priority lists.

Several meat companies also have launched campaigns to educate employees and dispel rumors about the vaccines.

Last spring, the virus spread through many meatpacking plants, where workers stand shoulder to shoulder on production lines, and as a result, the union said it believes members will be eager for vaccines. The United Food and Commercial Workers International, which represents roughly 80% of the nation’s beef and pork workers and 33% of its poultry workers, estimates that nearly 22,000 meatpacking workers have been infected or exposed, and at least 132 have died of COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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