Farmworkers need high-priority for COVID vaccine, advocates say

A study by UC Berkeley found farmworkers in some areas tested positive at a rate almost three times higher than the overall state population.
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Vaccinations are underway for health care workers, and so are lobbying efforts to give a higher priority to workers in certain jobs. One such group is California's 800,000 farmworkers.

The COVID-19 infection rate among farmworkers is staggering. In the Salinas Valley, a study by UC Berkeley found farmworkers tested positive at a rate almost three times higher than the overall state population.

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"Whether it be the Central Valley, Imperial Valley, whether it's the Salinas Valley, they have been impacted significantly, and certainly ensuring that we protect them through a vaccination or we begin those efforts is incredibly important," said Assm. Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), who is chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Rivas and other state lawmakers have made an appeal to Governor Newsom. National groups have written to President Trump and to President-elect Biden over concerns of a disruption in the food supply chain.

With individual states setting their vaccine priorities, one of them, Michigan, has given food and agriculture workers the same priority as teachers, police and firefighters.

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The agricultural industry is making sure the food we eat every day is clean and safe.

"When you look at the way farmworkers live in intergenerational housing, critically overcrowded housing, this impacts their families, and so certainly it threatens these communities," noted Rivas.

Even if priority is given, farmworkers told UC researchers only half of them would get vaccinated. The other half worried about side effects or didn't trust the government. In the meantime, an effort is underway to include all food-related workers.

"Getting that food to the grocery stores and having a good, safe and healthy supply chain for transportation... those folks are important," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at the United Fresh Produce Assn. in Washington, D.C.

Human health and the health of California's $50 billion agriculture economy are at stake. We reached out to Governor Newsom's office, but there has been no response yet.

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