Fact Check: Are Postal Workers Ineligible for the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Since the COVID-19 vaccine distribution began in December 2020, more than 93 million doses have been administered, reaching over 18 percent of the total U.S. population, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As states move past the first phases of the vaccine rollout, more people will become eligible.

The Claim

On social media, it was pointed out that one industry deemed "essential" for months cannot yet get the vaccine: the United States Postal Service.

Twitter user @lavendernvelv pointed out that United States Postal Service (USPS) workers who "literally carried us through the pandemic" are still not eligible for a vaccine.

the USPS literally carried us through the pandemic and they're still not eligible for a vaccine? i'm sick

— carms〰️ (@lavendernvelv) March 8, 2021

The Facts

The CDC recommended that phase 1a of the rollout exclusively included frontline health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities who would be at the highest risk of contracting COVID.

Phase 1b then included frontline essential workers, people over the age of 75 and people with pre-existing health conditions that would put them at high risk of severe cases of COVID.

But vaccine rollout is left up to the states.

American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein wrote letters to 17 governors, urging them to move postal workers higher in the vaccine rollout order.

"Postal Workers, along with so many other dedicated essential workers, have been on the frontlines during this tragic pandemic, courageously carrying out our mission of connecting the people of the country," he wrote in a letter to the governors.

"It has come to our attention that your state has apparently chosen to place postal workers further down in the order of those with early access to the vaccine. We urge you to work to ensure that the vaccine be made available to postal workers at the earliest possible time. The well-being of postal workers and postal customers depend on it."

Each state has its own vaccine rollout plan that ranks eligibility differently, depending on occupation, age and medical conditions. The timelines are subject to change based on federal vaccine allocations.

States prioritized frontline health care workers, law enforcement personnel and people living and working in long-term care facilities under phase 1a of the vaccine rollout.

After that, many states determined eligibility based on age, existing medical conditions and some high-contact occupations such as school staff, public transit workers and those who work in funeral services.

Most states did not specifically list postal workers in their vaccine rollout plans. Some states, such as Oregon, New Jersey, Illinois, Tennessee, Maryland, Kansas, Kentucky specifically included postal workers as essential frontline or public-facing workers in later phases and some are not eligible for the vaccine until spring.

In California, postal workers are considered Transportation and Logistics essential workers under Governor Gavin Newsom's Executive Order N-3-20. However, only essential workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure in the Emergency Services and Food and Agriculture Sectors are eligible for the vaccine, according to the California Department of Public Health. U.S. Postal Service carriers are specifically excluded from the phase 1b eligibility list on the Los Angeles Department of Public Health website.

New York announced Tuesday that public-facing government and public employees, including postal workers, are eligible beginning March 17.

The USPS told Newsweek that it "continues to work toward a standardized priority opportunity for our employees who choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine" by working with federal, state and local officials to develop nationwide vaccine distribution plans for postal employees.

However, it urges employees to review the information on their state or local public health websites for eligibility information.

In December, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that postal workers become classified as frontline essential workers and part of phase 1b of the rollout because they are "critical to the functioning of society."

According to a CDC spokesperson, frontline essential workers are a subset of essential workers likely at highest risk for work-related exposure to COVID-19 because "their work-related duties must be performed on-site and involve being in close proximity [less than six feet] to the public or to coworkers."

The USPS has reported 171 employee deaths related to COVID, and this week, 9,905 postal workers have been ordered under quarantine for contracting COVID-19 or for presumed exposure. At the start of 2021, that number was as high as 20,000.

In January, Dimondstein wrote a letter to the Biden administration to develop a national plan in line with the CDC's recommendation.

"We are optimistic that your new administration will work to bring order to the COVID chaos including bringing a national plan to the vaccine rollout. We strongly urge that as part of this plan the CDC recommendations in relation to postal workers is consistently and fully implemented throughout the country," Dimondstein wrote. "The well-being of postal workers and postal customers depend on it."

The Ruling

Half True.

Eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine is determined by the states, and each has its own rollout plan. In some states, postal workers are considered essential frontline workers and will be eligible for the vaccine by the spring.

Other states have excluded, omitted or bumped down postal workers to give priority to people of a certain age or with a certain health condition or occupation. Therefore, postal workers in those states will be eligible with the general public.

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Getty Images USPS Truck 2020 Veterans Day
Wide-angle view of a United States Postal Service truck in Lafayette, California, September 17, 2020. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images