Farmworkers, food service employees start to receive vaccines in San Benito

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San Benito County Public Health Department and Grower-Shipper Association hosted a remote Covid-19 vaccine clinic for farmworkers and food sector employees at Earthbound Farm in San Juan Bautista on Feb. 26 Photo: Juan Reyes

The first set of remote Covid-19 vaccine clinics for food and agricultural sector workers was a big success in San Benito County, bringing in approximately 250 people to get their first shots.   

The county’s public health department and Safeway Pharmacy along with the Grower-Shipper Association on Feb. 25 and 26 hosted the clinic at Earthbound Farm in San Juan Bautista. The clinic was aimed for those who live or work in San Benito County. 

President Chris Valadez said they reached out to anyone from small farms, food processor plants and restaurants including wait staff and line cooks.

“As long as they’re on the list,” he said.

Earthbound Farm officials agreed to volunteer their facility and staff to assist with administration of the Covid vaccination clinic. They were set up with security, check-in, appointment reference and any other administrative needs before someone got into the clinic.

The county public health department advised Grower-Shipper to use the Covid-19 Vaccination Interest Portal based on a list of people who signed up. The vaccinations did not have an age limit, which meant anyone working in the specific sectors was eligible. 

Grower-Shipper staff identified people and followed up with companies to see if they were still interested or received the vaccine.

“It’s not the exclusive outlet, it’s just an outlet that’s trying to do this on a super size basis,” Valadez said.

Valadez said what might make them somewhat different from any other outlet is that they’re exclusively focusing on one specific sector. It doesn’t mean people only have to go to Grower-Shipper and they are free to go to a local pharmacy, doctor or hospital. 

The current plan is to do a clinic or two each based on clinician availability and supply availability.   

“We look forward to continuing to do this as often as we can,” he said.

San Benito County Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki said the idea behind the farmworker mass vaccination clinics is to get as many doses out as quickly as possible. He also added that restricting the doses by age would cause logistical problems.

“It just makes more sense from a productivity standpoint,” he said. 

Valadez mentioned that they operated a clinic in Monterey County for about 300 agriculture workers from more than 40 companies but it was age limited. They had to make sure that everybody they served based on an appointment was 65 years and above, which was a stretch because there’s a smaller pool to assist.

Valadez said they’re in a point of time where there’s a broader eligibility category and they are not limited by age.

However, he was asked by county officials to be considerate of seeing who is actively working in the food and ag sectors so they can match a limited supply of vaccinations.

He said their limiting factor is vaccine doses and clinicians. 

“If there were 1,000 people in the interest portal and I had 1,000 vacinnes, and enough clinicians to do it, we’d do it immediately,” Valadez said. 

Kosmicki said they’re getting a certain number of doses and those figures are going up. They’re expecting this week to receive 1,300 Pfizer doses. He added that 70 percent of the allocation will be to the age group and then spreading out the rest to the industry sectors such as agriculture, food and education. 

Kosmicki said they’re in the middle of transitioning to the state’s system, MyTurn, which will be the main source for Californians to sign up for appointments. The problem is the county’s portal had 12,000 entries, which caused a bit of a backlog. 

His biggest concern is making sure that educators are getting vaccinated and has made it clear that they need to form some type of partnership with the school districts. Kosmicki noted that the schools are more than willing to provide resources including nurses who can potentially administer vaccine doses.  

“That would just be a win-win for everybody,” he said. 

Valadez also stressed that it’s important to have multiple outlets whether it’s Grower-Shipper, community health centers or pharmacies.

“I think we’re going to get to a point where counties, including San Benito County, are going to receive a more plentiful supply of vaccines,” he said. “I think you have to have options and avenues for residents of these communities to get a vaccine.”

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