SALINAS — The agriculture industry in Monterey County reports a milestone 42,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to more than 70% of its total farmworker population since vaccination efforts began earlier this year.
“This remarkable level of vaccinations comes after weeks of vaccination clinics held exclusively for farmworkers in all areas of Monterey County, including large clinics,” said Kim Stemler, executive director of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association.
From the beginning of the pandemic, the agriculture industry was considered essential and most employees in the sector were deemed essential workers.
“People can’t eat without growers and the people who pick the crops,” said Stemler. “We’ve been leaders in the state, and dare I say the nation, in setting up health and safety protocols.”
Early on, the Monterey County agriculture industry was conscious of the fact that in order to keep its people safe, healthy and able to work, it needed to concentrate on making its workforce a vaccination priority.
The community came together with government and ag leaders for a public-private partnership to get as many of the essential agriculture workforce vaccinated as possible to keep the leading economic engine in Monterey County humming.
The 2018 study “Economic Contributions of Monterey County Agriculture” reported the No. 1 industry in the county contributed $11.7 billion to the economy and supported 57,503 direct employees, representing 22.8% of Monterey County’s total employment, or about one out of every five jobs.
As vaccines became available at the end of 2020, local, state and federal elected officials and community leaders coalesced to advocate for prioritizing the Monterey County ag workforce in line for COVID-19 vaccination.
By late February, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas began large-scale vaccination clinics for farmworkers that included those that work in Monterey County migrating from places such as Coachella Valley, Imperial County, the San Joaquin Valley, Arizona, Washington and Oregon as well as from outside the U.S. through the H2A guestworker visa program.
Through the large-scale vaccination clinics along with other clinics at local hospitals and those organized by other agricultural trade associations, the number of those vaccinated in the ag workforce has exceeded the national average for the entire population. Stemler said the vaccines administered have been from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 data tracker, 62.2% of adults in the U.S. have received at least one vaccination.
In Monterey County, the proportion of residents 12 years of age and older who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine stands at 60%.
The collaborative effort to get the agricultural workforce vaccinated shows the commitment of ag employers and trade associations to keep Monterey County farmworkers and their families protected and healthy, including in the workplace, said Stemler.
“The agriculture industry in Monterey County is immensely proud of the effort and wants to pat everyone who participated on the back. From those wanting to be vaccinated and standing in line, along with our partners and volunteers,” said Stemler. “It was a community effort that recognized the importance of everyone’s lives while adding to the vitality of the region.”
The farmworker vaccination effort has been one in cooperation with the many entities in the agriculture industry including the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association, Monterey County Farm Bureau, Coastal Growers Association, Monterey County Cannabis Industry Association and California Strawberry Commission. The vaccination count includes clinics held by the United Farm Workers Foundation.
Stemler said that the number of farmworkers vaccinated does not include those who registered and received a COVID-19 vaccination on their own through other channels not associated with clinics run by agriculture vaccination partners, “so the actual total is probably higher.”
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