Area chicken plants move to vaccinate employees against COVID-19

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record
Nurse Supervisor Mark Karstetter gives Eli Ruiz his vaccine.

It was a cloudy, blustery day at the Simmons Food Cook Plant. Cars drove through an orderly line, and drivers, one by one, stuck their arms out to get the shot that could save their lives.

Area poultry processing plants are immunizing employees against COVID, holding company-wide events where people can get vaccinations. 

Eli Ruiz, the human resources shift manager for Simmons Foods Cook Plant in Van Buren, said going to a vaccination event rather than having to find a place to get a vaccine on his own made it a lot easier.

“I decided to get the vaccine because I feel it’s very important to limit the number of people getting infected," Ruiz said. 

At O.K. Foods, Simmons and Tyson Foods, employees can get vaccinated through on-site clinics. 

"O.K. Foods has remained committed to the health and safety of our valued team members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been actively educating team members about the vaccine and encouraging them to get vaccinated at their earliest convenience," said Jordan Johnson, a spokesman for O.K. Foods, in an email. 

OK Foods Corporate Headquarters in Fort Smith, 4601 N.Sixth St., as seen, Friday, March 12. The company has offered COVID-19 vaccinations to its employees.

All the plants want to make the vaccines available to anyone who wants them. 

At Tyson, the plan is to hold 19 vaccination events between March 15 and April 2, giving the company's approximately 24,000 Arkansas employees a chance to get the vaccine, according to a press release.

The Fayetteville and Springdale Tyson plants had vaccination clinics on March 9 and 10, respectively. More than 1,200 employees were vaccinated at the events, according to the release.

Derek Burleson, a spokesman for Tyson, said that the company could possibly have more clinics depending on if there is a great enough need for them. Otherwise, officials will direct their employees to nearby vaccination facilities.

“It really depends on the volume," Burleson said. 

Tyson is offering its employees up to four hours of regular pay if they are vaccinated outside of their shift times or through an external source. 

Nurse Supervisor Mark Karstetter gives Eli Ruiz of Simmons Foods a COVID-19 vaccine.

Simmons had two vaccination events for its four plants in the River Valley area, extending vaccines to their more than 1,500 team members in the River Valley, said Julie Maus, the director of communications for the company. More than 700 employees received their first round of the Pfizer vaccine. 

The company had three vaccination clinics over three days in northwest Arkansas. Simmons will have another round of clinics within the next few weeks to give their employees their booster shots. 

Workers could get their vaccines any time during their work shift and were paid if they received their vaccine before or after their shift, Maus said. 

Ruiz, who got his shot at the Simmons Cook Plant in Van Buren, said the shot did not hurt and that he was “thankful because they’re keeping their employees safe," he said about his employer.