Science | February 20, 2021 2:53 pm

In Wisconsin, Mink Farmers Got the Vaccine Earlier Than Seniors

That's less strange than you'd think

A mink
A mink in Lille Rorbaek outside of Copenhagen.
JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP via Getty Images

When you think of people who might get priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, who comes to mind? Medical workers, of course; as well as people whose age or health makes them particularly susceptible. Other states have prioritized teachers and even people engaged in making, serving or delivering food. There’s another group of workers who’ve wound up with an early spot on the vaccine distribution list in at least one state, and it might seem like a strange addition at first: mink farmers.

As a new article in The Washington Post points out, though, mink farmers getting the vaccine earlier than most people — including some seniors and teachers — actually makes a lot of sense. Readers may recall the moment last year when Denmark opted to cull over 15 million mink on farms due to an alarming coronavirus mutation.

Mink are particularly hazardous when it comes to the pandemic. A New York Times article from December 2020 noted that mink are unique among animals in that they can both catch COVID from, and spread COVID to, humans. A COVID infection can also easily spread among the mink population on a farm, where it might mutate.

The Washington Post article points out that 416 mink farms around the world, including 16 in the United States, have had to deal with coronavirus outbreaks in the last year.

It’s worth mentioning that while Wisconsin is responsible for 38% of the nation’s mink fur, that industry doesn’t represent a large number of people. According to the article, the number of mink farm employees being vaccinated is in the neighborhood of 300. The idea of mink farmers getting the vaccine before teachers can sound shocking at first, but it’s a lot more grounded than one might expect.

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