About 73% of farmworkers said they would get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, but vaccination clinics at farm worksites are still infrequent and reliant on scarce supply.
There was a day in early December when Maria Cruz thought she might not make it.
“One morning my chest was in so much pain, I began to cry because honestly I panicked,” she said, recalling the cough, body aches and shivers during the grueling weeks she spent with COVID-19.
So when her employer, Monterey Mushrooms in Morgan Hill, offered its employees vaccines allotted by Santa Clara County, she drowned out anything negative she’d heard about the shots and signed up.
The process was easy enough: During a Sunday shift in late February, she walked from her workstation to an outdoor vaccine line. The whole process took less than 30 minutes, including the 15 minutes she sat in observation after her shot.
California has more than half a million farmworkers — and they appear to be eager to be vaccinated. Counties only recently started offering vaccinations to this hard-hit workforce, but agricultural workers are so far accepting the vaccine at high rates.
Large employers like Foster Farms, Pom Wonderful and Terranova Ranch reported about a 90% vaccination rate in recent, on-site worker vaccination clinics, according to the Fresno County public health department.
“A big part is seeing how much growers really want it,” said Irene de Barraicua with Líderes Campesinas, a nonprofit network of women farm workers based in Oxnard. “Some (growers) weren’t crazy about getting workers tested or bringing doctors to the fields, but vaccines are different.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has visited farmworker vaccine events in the Central Valley, touting the state’s commitment to the workers who feed America and promising them more vaccines.
But workplace vaccination events are still few and far between in California, so farmworkers face many obstacles getting the vaccine, advocates say. The clinics are sometimes only open to workers of certain companies, and they are reliant on how many doses a county sets aside for them.
United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres said targeting farmworkers at their work sites is the best way to make the vaccine easy for them to get. But success will take more available doses, and also more coordination and ingenuity to ensure that vaccines are where the workers are.
“We want to make sure the process is accessible. Just having something on a website isn’t going to get farmworkers somewhere because there is limited digital literacy and that limitation has been a huge barrier,” she said.
Some counties like Riverside have sent mobile clinics to agricultural worksites. Tulare County has opened its large International Agri-Center, well-known in its farming community, where growers can send their employees for vaccinations.
Farmworkers, like other essential employees, can also get vaccinated at other distribution sites, like pharmacies, but that often requires taking time off work, navigating a county or pharmacy website or the MyTurn online form and getting lucky finding an appointment.
In a nationwide United Farm Workers Foundation survey of 10,149 farmworkers — the vast majority in California — 73% said they would get the vaccine as soon as possible while only 5% said they would not. Twenty-two percent said they were neutral. That’s slightly more pro-vaccine than the 69% of all Americans who say they have been or will be vaccinated and the 30% who say they would not, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
“We want to make sure the process is accessible. Just having something on a website isn’t going to get farmworkers somewhere because there is limited digital literacy…”
—DIANA TELLEFSON TORRES, UNITED FARM WORKERS FOUNDATION