Mass vaccination efforts underway for port workers

The Los Angeles City Council recently passed a resolution to show its support for any legislation that would prioritize the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to essential waterfront workers.

The resolution was introduced on Dec. 15 by Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Paul Koretz. It was seconded by Councilman Mike Bonin.

It noted that "the maritime industry has continued to operate throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic despite major disruptions to global supply chains ... and the Port of Los Angeles is a linchpin in the economic vitality of multiple critical infrastructure sectors locally and nationally. The health and safety of waterfront workers is crucial for the continued recovery from the economic devastation wrought by the global pandemic," the resolution said.

During the City Council meeting on Jan. 26, Buscaino said the men and women working at ports "are essential frontline workers, putting themselves at risk so that you and I are able to receive the (personal protective equipment) that we need to keep ourselves safe and during these unprecedented times, they take care of us. Now we need to take care of them."

Tuesday's Council resolution must next be approved by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The vote comes after several local and state elected officials expressed concern that high positivity rates of COVID-19 at the San Pedro Bay ports will affect the hub's ability to keep up with demand amid the pandemic.

The test positivity rate was reported to be 65% at the Port of Los Angeles and 71% at the Port of Long Beach earlier this month, according to a letter sent to California Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly and Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer from U.S. Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragan, D-Los Angeles, and Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, on Jan. 15.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Eugene Seroka said during the meeting, "We stand ground-ready for a mass vaccination program here at the port ... should we be given the authority and the inventory to vaccinate our workers."

Koretz said Tuesday that he hasn't heard of another industry that has been as impacted by COVID-19.

"To keep our port functioning and to keep our workers safe, I think this is an incredibly high priority," Koretz said. "I believe we should recognize this as a top priority for our city."

Bonin noted that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced recently that COVID-19 vaccines will be given out based on age, not occupation.

"There has not been much explanation from the administration yesterday but this announcement that they are moving to an age-based system screws our dock workers and screws a lot of essential workers in Los Angeles if we are going to be putting people (first) based on age as opposed to based on their risk of exposure," Bonin said.

A group of local officials including Garcetti, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Los Angeles, Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell, D-Long Beach, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino and Long Beach Councilwoman Cindy Allen penned a letter to Ghaly and state epidemiologist Dr. Erica S. Pan on Jan. 12 that said:

"As we continue to weather the current COVID-19 surge, especially in Southern California, port workers contracting COVID-19 could have disastrous consequences for the movement of goods, food, and medical supplies that Californians are depending upon in this time of crisis. This includes especially critical pandemic response goods such a personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizer, medical equipment, and more. Moreover, emergency regulations recently promulgated by California's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board could further exacerbate constraints on critical supply chains if workers fall ill by requiring continuous testing of all employees and taking exposed individuals out of the workforce."

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