Gov. Gavin Newsom, after a visit to a Coachella pop-up site on Feb. 17, announced that California would make 34,000 vaccines available to farmworkers in the Central Valley, the state’s agricultural heartland. “What this county has done no other county in the state had done,” he said. “We need to replicate this program all up and down the state of California.”
But some in Riverside County, which stretches from working-class Los Angeles exurbs to the Salton Sea, have questioned whether farmworkers should be at the front of the line.
On a recent evening in Beaumont, about a 30-minute drive from the Coachella Valley, people who had snagged appointments for vaccines through the process available to most California residents — mainly over 65 — idled in their cars for hours in the parking lot of a local middle school.
David Huetten, 73, said those confined to wheelchairs in his retirement community had been unable to reach vaccination events like this one. “When you have seniors and teachers who haven’t been vaccinated, I wouldn’t put farmworkers at the top of the list,” he said.
In the nearby town of Banning, Olga Rausch, a 73-year-old retired waitress who had still not been able to sign up for a vaccine, questioned why farmworkers should go before other blue-collar workers who also cannot afford to stay home from work. “There are a lot of people living in crowded conditions,” she said. “Why aren’t busboys, dishwashers and people working at the 99-cent store getting the vaccine?”
Most people, however, felt it made sense to prioritize farmworkers. “They’re handling our food,” said Don Tandy, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran. Health officials everywhere are grappling with how to achieve equitable vaccine distribution. President Biden has repeatedly said that delivering the vaccine is core to his coronavirus response, but early data shows that doses have been slower to reach some Black and Latino communities with an elevated risk of infection. In Riverside County, Hispanics represent nearly half of the population but have so far received only 20 percent of doses. Vaccinating farmworkers is a first step toward addressing the equity problem, said U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz, a physician who grew up in Riverside County.
“We have a moral responsibility to make sure that we do not leave people behind simply because they lack resources or live in certain ZIP codes,” said Mr. Ruiz, a Democrat, who has been visiting rural communities to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
Like many Americans, some farmworkers worry the vaccine is not safe, because disinformation has proliferated on social media. Others fear that being vaccinated could expose them to immigration enforcement. Prime Time International, the nation’s largest grower of bell peppers, invited workers to register for the vaccine last month, and “the first question was, ‘Is immigration going to be there?’” recalled Garrett Cardilino, director of field operations for the company.
To assuage those fears, Riverside County enlisted grass roots organizations to reach out to farmworkers and reassure them. “There is no chip to track you; there is no negative effect; you don’t lose your fertility,” Montserrat Gomez, an educator with TODEC, a legal-aid nonprofit organization that serves immigrants, told a group of about 30 workers in masks gathered by a spinach field in the town of Winchester.
“The vaccine is now available for you,” she said. “Many people wish they had this opportunity.”
- The Truth On Trump’s Recent Firing Of My Wife I was working out on Tuesday morning when I got the call from my mom. She doesn’t usually call in the morning unless something is happening.