Farmworker after receiving the Moderna shot on the right arm. | Photo by Itzel Castro
Story and photos by Itzel Castro
Farmworkers in Monterey County have been risking their lives by feeding America since the start of the pandemic — and now they are seeing the fruits of their labor.
Almost a year into the pandemic, farmworkers in the “Salad Bowl of the World” are receiving their shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. This comes after a staggering death toll in Monterey County, with a large percentage of the 329 fatalities hitting farmworkers or their families. About 60 percent of the reported deaths in the county are among Latinx. And, when occupations are reported to the county, more farmworkers have tested positive for the virus than any other employment group.
The opening drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic for agricultural workers started as a partnership between Clínica de Salud del Valle de Salinas and the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. Last Thursday, initial shots of Moderna were administered to almost 300 older agricultural workers in the parking lot of the D’Arrigo Co.’s headquarters in Salinas.
“I believe in medicine and science,” said José Manuel Guijarro, in Spanish. The 65-year-old was the first farmworker to be vaccinated in the rapid vaccine clinic. “We have to do this for our own good and I am grateful for all the people who are making this possible.”
- Related story: Vaccine distribution disparities in Monterey County
The drive-through vaccination clinic was greenlighted after Clínica de Salud secured one of its first federal allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s critical for the farmworker community to be protected against this virus and this is the quickest way,” said Dr. Max Cuevas, CEO of Clínica de Salud del Valle de Salinas. “Here you have a built-in office in each of the cars.”
While Clínica de Salud personnel prepared the vaccines from the vial to the syringe, Hartnell College nursing students played a crucial role in the vaccination process by administering the shot.
“The pandemic has impacted their nursing school experience so much and they are now happy to be part of the solution,” said Toni Gifford, assistant director of Vocational Nursing at Hartnell College.
The vaccination clinic comes at a crucial time since the spring harvest is about to begin. Thousands of farmworkers will soon be returning from the Imperial Valley to the Salinas Valley.
Blas Villegas, 66, a farmworker who was scheduled early by his employer Braga Inc. to get vaccinated, drove 513 miles to get his shot of Moderna. “We are about to continue the season up north,” said Villegas, who came up from El Centro for the vaccination. “Glad I was able to get the shot.”
The Growers-Shipper Association is working rapidly with 42 agricultural companies in the area to help schedule farmworkers, who meet the requirements, to get vaccinated in these drive-thru clinics.
“For us it’s a matter of not only putting people in line, but putting them on the front of the line because we asked so much of them,” said Christopher Valadez, president of the association. “There has been a big toll on the ag worker community.”
This comes as Monterey County challenges the inequities in vaccine distribution.
“We have been waiting for this for a very long time,” said Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo. “We were one of the few counties in California that was getting less of a fair share.”
Telesfora Avila, 65, a farmworker who has been on the job throughout the pandemic, shares her challenges.
“It was bad,” said Avila, who risked her life harvesting a wide variety of crops during the past year. “We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The next farmworker vaccination clinic will take place this Saturday, March 6 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Salinas Rodeo Grounds, where Clínica de Salud and the Grower-Shipper Association aim to vaccinate around 3,000 farmworkers.
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