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Vaccinations for agricultural employees reach more areas

Issue Date: February 10, 2021
By Kevin Hecteman
Farm employees await their turns at a temporary vaccination clinic in Watsonville, set up by the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau in cooperation with Dignity Health and the California Strawberry Commission.
Photo/Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau

More counties, with an assist from their Farm Bureaus, have taken first steps toward getting much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccinations for farm employees.

Santa Cruz County farmer Tom Am Rhein said the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau recently received a call from Dignity Health Dominican Hospital with welcome news.

"They said that they had vaccine available, and they would like to get into vaccination of the farmworker community, and they needed support," said Am Rhein, who grows berries in the southern portion of the county.

Am Rhein said the county Farm Bureau already had a task force with grower members and Executive Director Jess Brown working with the county health department and agricultural commissioner's office.

The county Farm Bureau then contacted its grower members, asking for a headcount of active farm employees who wanted the vaccine. That was on a Saturday, "and by Monday morning (Feb. 1), we had thousands of names," Am Rhein said. "So then we came up with an allocation process to equitably allocate, because we didn't have enough vaccine for everybody."

Once the Farm Bureau had names of interested parties, he said, farmers were told when and where they should appear to be vaccinated. The timing was kept quiet for a reason, he noted.

"We were very careful not to publicize the location and times, because there's been problems where that's happened, and just thousands of people show up, and it becomes a real mess," Am Rhein said.

About 500 people received the vaccine Feb. 3, due to the efforts of the county Farm Bureau, Dignity Health and the California Strawberry Commission. A clinic last weekend raised the tally of vaccinations to 1,300, Brown said.

As reported in Ag Alert® last week, vaccination clinics for agricultural employees have begun in several other locations around the state.

In Sonoma County, four rural health clinics have been reserving some appointments for farm employees, said Tawny Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. The clinics are in the west county, and require farm employees seeking vaccinations to show proof they live and work in the ZIP code served by the clinic.

In the meantime, the county Farm Bureau is circulating an online database among its members, adding names and numbers of people desiring vaccinations, so Tesconi can reach employers in short order as vaccination opportunities arise.

"If I had to guess, I would say it's going to be mid-March before we see a mass opportunity for vaccinations for ag workers in Sonoma County," she said.

Because the county will require an ID badge or a pay stub as proof of essential-worker status, and many farm employers don't use ID badges, the county Farm Bureau is offering to make them for its members' employees at a nominal cost, she added.

The Kern County Farm Bureau has been talking to public health officials since COVID-19 testing began, said Colleen Taber, the county Farm Bureau administrator.

"However, with the state changes, the ripple effect is felt through different counties, and then they have to adjust based upon the state guidelines," which currently prioritize vaccinating those 65 and older, she said.

In the meantime, she said, she's encouraging employers who have employees age 65 and older to "urge them to take advantage of that and not wait for the ag clearance."

Taber said the county Farm Bureau has sent a survey to members, looking for the number of employees interested in being vaccinated, to help ease the arrangement of vaccine clinics once an adequate supply is available.

"We want to be prepared when that time comes," she said. "We have a lot of interested employers who call daily, looking to vaccinate. We're just on deck, waiting."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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