Stellantis employees in Illinois among first autoworkers to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Stellantis NV employees assembling the Jeep Cherokee in Illinois will be some of the country's first auto workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine this week.

The Prairie State last week opened distribution to essential workers, which includes those in the manufacturing sector. The Detroit Three and the United Auto Workers are awaiting similar directions and specifics in other states, including Michigan, to offer the shot to their employees on a voluntary basis, according to the union.

"The issue right now is knowing when it is available, how much will be available, and how the states are allocating it with employers or some other way," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said. "We're having the discussions on the situation and are waiting on some of the unknowns to fill in the blanks."

In Michigan, businesses must determine which of their employees are considered "essential" to keep their operations going, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. But its preliminary vaccine distribution timeline predicts distribution to those essential workers won't happen until May.

Stellantis this week is working with the Boone County Health Department in Illinois to distribute 1,800 doses from ModernaTX Inc. to workers at the Belvidere Assembly Plant west of Chicago. The transatlantic automaker has a primary health care center in the community operated by SwedishAmerican Health System for its employees where it will distribute the vaccine. Interested employees must schedule an appointment.

Belvidere Assembly employs 3,792 people, and Stellantis is the county's largest employer. The county is hoping to use this closed point-of-distribution model to vaccinate other manufacturing workers in the future.

"Factories have been the top exposure location in Boone County as identified through our Contact Tracing efforts over the last 10 months," Amanda Mehl, the county's public health administrator, said in an email. "1st and 2nd doses will be available to all employees of our manufacturing industry in Boone County in the coming weeks to months as vaccine supply increases."

Elsewhere, Stellantis has a cross-functional team with medical professionals studying how best to distribute vaccines when they become available. In addition to the Belvidere health center that opened last summer, Stellantis also has one in Detroit, which is operated by Ascension Health, and one in Kokomo, Indiana.

Ford Motor Co. has an assembly plant in Chicago building the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator SUVs. The Dearborn automaker is investigating how to provide eligible employees in Illinois and other states the vaccine when it becomes available according to state and local municipalities, spokeswoman Kelli Felker said in a statement.

In November, Ford said it had purchased 12 ultra-cold freezers to distribute the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. that must be stored between minus 112 and minus 76 degrees Farenheit. The Moderna vaccine does not need ultra-cold storage.

GM hasn't yet worked out plans to vaccinate its employees, the Detroit automaker's spokesman David Caldwell said: "We have regional teams that are working on plans to administer the vaccine."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble

Staff Writer Kalea Hall contributed.