During the first meeting of 2021, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors (BOS) unanimously approved a letter to Governor Newsom, supporting the promotion of the COVID-19 vaccine for the essential farmworker population.
The letter was put together with help of the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) and cited the high rates of unemployment and infection in Tulare County as factors that could “undercut” the ability for farmworkers to retain jobs, homes and livelihood.
Supervisor Pete Vander Poel noted the lack of protection that farm workers had in regards to the virus and was concerned this could disrupt food from reaching the market, something the county experienced early last year during the onset of the pandemic.
“Often because of the type of work they do,” Vander Poel said, “[farmworkers] are not able to social distance or take any of the other precautions that other jobs or careers are able to take. So I do think it’s important that we continue to advocate, that way we can not only protect this valuable population, but also continue to get food at the market place which is absolutely essential in this county.”
Tulare County Farm Bureau sent out this statement to all ag employers along with a survey asking how many doses they would need.
“As the distribution of the COVID19 vaccine begins, the Dept. of Public Health is following CDC Phase categories and CDPH tier categories to reach the prioritized populations as the vaccine becomes available. Food and Agricultural Workers are one of the demographics that have been identified as Phase 1b and are eligible to receive the vaccine in the next two-three weeks. Receiving the COVID19 vaccine is optional and completely voluntary.”
Although the move to prioritize vaccination of farmworkers seems like a prudent one, the actual task of vaccination may be hindered by distrust and cultural barriers among farmworkers.
The Sun Gazette reported that more than 93% of farmworkers were fearful of the virus and that many were concerned about side effects from taking the vaccine. Furthermore, social media sites like Facebook have been “reinforcing fears” by spreading disinformation.
This, coupled by the communal culture of a highly Hispanic farmworker population, creates an environment for increased exposure and infection. To combat this, The Tulare County BOS, HHSA and Public Health have created a multifaceted “outreach” effort which includes visits by trained community health workers and contracts with Univision Fresno to educate families.
However, the farmworker community continues to be severely impacted.