Farmworker Vaccine Pilot a Success

This Week, Educators, Emergency, Food Workers Up for Vaccination

Santa Maria farmworkers | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Santa Barbara County’s vaccine allocations have gradually increased in recent weeks, making way for the Public Health Department to begin vaccinating the farmworker population.

Public Health successfully vaccinated 496 agricultural workers at the Santa Maria Health Care Center last Sunday as part of a farmworker vaccination pilot — a real feat with just 30 staff, or “bare-bones staff” as Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso put it. 

The goal for the pilot was to work through the cultural and linguistic barriers faced by the agricultural workers at clinics. The majority of staff were bilingual, and there were also five interpreters on hand to help with Spanish and multiple Mixteco dialects. 

“Our indigenous farmworker community does not have the same access to information compared to other workers,” said Fernando Martinez, a community organizer with the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), one of several groups that partnered with Public Health on the Sunday pilot. “We look forward to our continued collaboration with lessons learned from Sunday’s clinic so we can vaccinate as many people as possible.” 

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In addition to the vaccines, the pilot served to educate the agricultural workers in their preferred native language. Education was given on legal, medical, and wellness support services offered by Public Health and the partner organizations, which include MICOP as well as the Agricultural Commission, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, Herencia Indígena, and the Growers/Shippers Association. 

Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson said he was a strong supporter of an employer-based system to vaccinate agricultural workers. He said there are several successful models already in use and that many employers would allow workers to get vaccinated on the clock, further ensuring the likelihood that they will be able to receive both doses. 

Do-Reynoso said that her department has reached out to the county’s agricultural commissioner about exploring an employer-based pilot in addition to the clinic-based one from Sunday. They are also looking at setting up mobile clinics, too. This week, agricultural workers are eligible to schedule a vaccination appointment through Public Health as well. 

Agricultural workers aren’t the only new group to become eligible for vaccines this week. While medical workers and those age 65 and older are still able to get vaccinated, now emergency workers and education and childcare workers are able to sign up, too. For this week’s allocation, the county is following a 70/30 vaccine distribution plan. 

This means that of the county’s total allocation, 70 percent will be going to our health-care system to vaccinate health-care workers, those 65 and older, employees in the TK-12 sector, and employees in higher education. The other 30 percent will be allocated to food and agricultural workers, childcare workers, and those in the emergency services sector. 

This week, the Public Health Department, in conjunction with Lompoc Valley Medical Center, has set aside approximately 1,100 vaccine appointments for TK-12 educational staff. Due to the vaccine shortage, the first group of vaccines has been reserved for those serving our most vulnerable students who require “support that does not allow for physical distancing, are medically fragile, and are often unable to wear masks.”

Each district, charter, or private school will determine which staff fit into this group. Educators can make appointments once they have received an invitation from their employers. 

The county’s vaccine allocations have been slowly increasing each week, giving hope that there will be more appointments available in the coming weeks for those who are eligible. Just from last week to this week, there was a 22 percent increase in the allocation. Also coming down the pike, Johnson & Johnson received emergency-use authorization on Saturday for its one-dose vaccine. Though Do-Reynoso estimated that at least 380,000 doses are shipping to California, the exact allocation for Santa Barbara County still remains unclear.

Credit: Courtesy

Increased vaccine supply is not the only metric worth celebrating in Santa Barbara County. From February 15 to March 1, active cases decreased by 45 percent. Hospitalizations have also decreased by 50 percent, from 119 to 59. Intensive-care-unit rates have decreased by 32 percent. Deaths have increased 17 percent — totaling 413 Tuesday. The death metric lags behind active cases and hospitalizations and oftentimes reflects data from earlier weeks. 

Santa Barbara County’s adjusted case rate is at 13 cases per 100,000 and its positivity rate is at 5.1 percent, inching closer towards moving out of the purple tier and into the less-restrictive red tier, which requires an adjusted case rate of 7 or less and a positivity rate of 8 percent or less.

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