Collaborative efforts helping California’s farmworkers access COVID-19 vaccine

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We’ve noted numerous times the dire impact the novel coronavirus pandemic has had on farmworkers, who have always been essential. Nonprofit environmental journalism organization InsideClimate News reported last July that a study conducted by the California Institute for Rural Studies found that farmworkers were “contracting the virus at much higher rates than people in any other occupation.”

In Monterey County, just south of Santa Clara County, farmworkers were “three times more likely to contract the coronavirus than the general population,” the report said. “Farm hubs have the highest rates of Covid-19 in the state, and Latinx patients comprise the majority of cases in those hot spots.”

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised giving agricultural workers early access to the vaccine, but states have taken a range of approaches,” The New York Times reported, with a coalition of California groups last November urging the prioritization of farmworkers in vaccine distribution. Since then, Riverside County has been first in the U.S. to prioritize all farmworkers for vaccination, the Times reported. In Coachella Valley, “a landmark effort” is also targeting farmworkers through pop-up clinics.

In a testament to their risky work, one farmworker at the Ventura County clinic said she’d already survived the virus. The Chronicle reported that in Salinas Valley, 13% of farmworkers had tested positive for the virus during the second half of last year. “In comparison, only 5% of Californians overall tested positive from the start of the pandemic in March to November”:

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Advocates worry about other issues making vaccine accessibility more difficult for farmworkers. Some indigenous farmworkers are hindered due to language issues. The New York Times reports others don’t have broadband accessibility for scheduling appointments online. Let’s say they’re able to schedule something. What if they have no way to get there? “Many cannot easily reach vaccination sites in urban areas because they do not have reliable transportation or the ability to leave work in the middle of the day.” 

Then there’s the outright intentional negligence of localities putting in roadblocks for undocumented workers. In Florida, undocumented farmworkers worry about having to prove residency requirements. In Nebraska, the Republican governor seemingly refused to acknowledge the existence of undocumented workers at the state’s meatpacking plants. Facing outrage, an aide to Gov. Pete Ricketts said sure, undocumented essential workers at plants are eligible for the vaccine I guess, but they’ll have to wait at the end of the line.

Or, we could just prioritize all essential workers regardless of immigration status? Once you throw these kind of fears in the air, it’s hard to rein them back in. Recall that immigrants were fearful of the previous administration’s discriminatory “public charge” rule even before it was officially published. “Our goal is to make sure that everybody has access to vaccinations when they become eligible, especially those who are working in sectors that have been hardest hit by COVID,” said Santa Clara County public health director Dr. Sara Cody, according to the Chronicle. “These mobile vaccination clinics that come to communities, that meet people where they work and where they live, this is how we will get ourselves out of this pandemic.”

“We have been suffering the penalties of this sickness, and we have not received the attention that we deserve,” farmworker advocate Rogelio Lona said in the report. “I thank the county for coming to our place of work and allowing us to be the first farmworkers in the area to receive the vaccine, and I hope these efforts continue so that our community may combat this.”





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