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Farmers maintain vaccine efforts for employees

Issue Date: May 5, 2021
By Kevin Hecteman
At a Solano County farm last weekend, 44 people received second doses of vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Solano County farmer Joe Martinez invited his employees, their families and some neighbors to his place Saturday morning. The occasion? A health clinic—his second in a month—where second doses, and some first doses, of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered.

"It was really gratifying to me to be able to do this," said Martinez, who grows tree crops and serves on the California Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

To him, it was easier to invite employees to the farm on a Saturday than send them to a clinic farther away.

"It's going to really increase their comfort level," Martinez said, adding that he hoped the clinic would "just give them some peace of mind that they are vaccinated, and they can work and not have to worry about the chance of getting COVID."

Farmers interested in hosting their own clinics should talk to their county Farm Bureau, agricultural commissioner's office and public health department, he said.

Martinez's clinic represented part of a continuing effort to bring the vaccine to agricultural employees statewide.

Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, estimated 55% of farm employees in his area have received at least one dose so far.

"We have held numerous ag-focused clinics in the past six weeks, but now are transitioning to more public and open clinics for all residents, per state changes," Groot said. "Ag employers submitted lists of employees that were entered for these clinics as a group, thereby ensuring that complete crews were vaccinated at the same time."

In San Luis Obispo County, some 2,200 farm employees have been vaccinated through a "Farmworker Friday" project, said Brent Burchett, manager of the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau. The last such event took place in early April, Burchett said, noting that demand has waned.

"Our role has transitioned from logistics support to now being vaccine champions," he said. "We're giving our members the latest health and safety resources so they can make an informed decision about the vaccine."

Merced County Farm Bureau manager Breanne Ramos said the county Farm Bureau has helped connect people to employer-led clinics and local health clinics. The Merced County Farm Bureau now is surveying its members to assess vaccination needs.

At Trinchero Family Estates in Napa, Vice President of Human Resources Tom O'Brien has worked on vaccine education, including mailings and a videoconference webinar with a University of California doctor to get vaccine information to vineyard and winery employees.

"It's all really geared toward getting people comfortable and getting over the hesitancy of actually receiving the vaccine," O'Brien said, adding that these initiatives have so far led to 70% of his workforce being fully vaccinated.

He said he aims for a 100% vaccination rate, listing the biggest obstacle as convenience.

"If you make things convenient for folks, I think you can get a big chunk of folks," O'Brien said, summing up his objectives as to "minimize the concerns and maximize the opportunities."

Having the Farm Bureau's support has been a huge help, he added.

"All the folks that I've spoken with there have been super helpful, definitely in tune with what's going on in the community," O'Brien said.

The Farm Employers Labor Service, a California Farm Bureau affiliate, can help agricultural employers seeking vaccinations for their employees secure appointments through Blue Shield of California, which was hired by the state to administer the vaccination program. Blue Shield will arrange vaccinations for employees through local clinics. Farm Bureau members may email fels@fels.net with the following information: company or employer name; street address; contact person's phone number and email address; and number of employees needing vaccination.

On May 14, FELS will offer a free, Spanish-language webinar about COVID-19 and vaccines, intended for farm employees. For information, see www.fels.net and choose the link for FELS Webinars.

At the Martinez farm last Saturday, about 44 people received second shots, out of 48 who received the first dose weeks earlier, said Kimberly Noble, a Solano County public health nurse assisting at the clinic. She said she had worked at four such on-farm clinics to date.

"It feels so fulfilling to me, because I feel like we're able to reach out to one of the hardest-hit populations and harder-to-reach populations," she said.

Noble added she sees benefit in bringing vaccine clinics to farm employees, making the process "more comfortable for them."

Martinez made the same point, emphasizing the continuing need to reach out to farm employees.

"They're much more comfortable in a situation that they know, like being on our ranch, and not having to commute somewhere to get the shots and wait in line," he said.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He can be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

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




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