Poll workers on election front lines but remain low vaccination priority

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — President Joe Biden has said that COVID-19 vaccines should become available to the general public on May 1, but that could prove to be just days too late for Pennsylvania's poll workers.

Poll workers will interact with thousands of voters during Pennsylvania's May 18 primary, but there is no plan to vaccinate them in time for the election.

The state and city are currently working through priority groups that include public-facing essential workers. Lauren Cristella of the election watchdog group Committee of Seventy said poll workers definitely fit that description.

"They are democracy's essential workers and we should mitigate the risk that they're assuming by taking this very important job," she said.

Ryan Godfrey figures he met about 400 voters last election, not to mention his fellow poll workers.

"A lot of these places we're using as polling places can have poor ventilation, they can be small and cramped," he said. "We can have a lot of people in a small space."

And unlike many of the lower risk essential workers in the 1c priority group with them, they face an approaching deadline for getting the vaccine in time to stay safe on the one day they're most at risk.

"There's definitely a huge number coming through. Not everyone is perfectly healthy. We just don't know who these people are," he worried.

But Philadelphia's vaccination board — while moving the city commissioners' staff into 1b — left poll workers in the lower priority group. Deputy Commissioner Nick Custodio said no explanation was given.

"We will continue to advocate that the city move up the poll workers into an earlier vaccination timeline," he said.

The Department of Public Health declined comment on the reasoning.

Poll workers statewide are in the same boat. The state Department of Health said its vaccination plan is to ensure ethical, equitable and efficient distribution.