Nearly 250 Tyson Foods Inc. workers were vaccinated for COVID-19 at the company’s chicken processing complex in Wilkesboro Wednesday, the first day people in food and agriculture jobs in North Carolina were eligible regardless of age.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said 204 people at the Tyson complex received first doses and 44 received second doses of the Moderna vaccine Wednesday.

The 44 workers administered second doses were among 45 people age 65 and older who received first doses Feb. 3 at the Tyson complex. At that point, only people 65 and older, health care workers with in-person patient contact or long-term care residents and staff were eligible for vaccination.

The vaccine was administered to Tyson personnel in Wilkesboro Wednesday and Feb. 3 by Tyson and Wilkes Health Department nurses in a joint effort with Matrix Medical Network, said Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson.

Burleson said Tyson is providing educational resources in multiple languages about the vaccine to employees and established a hotline for questions. Tyson is compensating workers up to four hours of regular pay if they’re vaccinated outside of a normal shift or through an external source.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that eight groups of frontline essential workers would become eligible Wednesday regardless of age instead of March 10 as originally planned.

These include people employed in the food and agriculture industry, which encompasses restaurants, meat packing, food processing and food distribution.

Another of the eight groups is college and university instructors and support staff. Willard said health department staff vaccinated 140 Wilkes Community College employees Wednesday on the campus in Wilkesboro.

Others who became eligible Wednesday are people working in government and community services (including clergy); public health and social work; public safety; transportation; production of medical supplies and goods needed for food supply chains; and in stores selling groceries and medicine.

Child care center and pre-K to 12th-grade teachers and related personnel of any age became eligible on Feb. 24.

They all must be present in-person at their place of work to be eligible for vaccination.

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