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SLO County plans more COVID-19 vaccine clinics for ag workers 

SLO County Public Health innoculated 640 agricultural workers at its first vaccine clinic on March 19, with a goal of ensuring equitable and efficient access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The SLO County Farm Bureau drafted the plans for the vaccine clinic, which were approved by the vaccine task force in late February.

click to enlarge VACCINE EQUITY In partnership with local organizations and task forces, SLO County's Public Health Department successfully vaccinated more then 600 farmworkers March 19. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SLO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH DEPARTMENT
  • Photo Courtesy Of The SLO County Public Health Department
  • VACCINE EQUITY In partnership with local organizations and task forces, SLO County's Public Health Department successfully vaccinated more then 600 farmworkers March 19.

Farm Bureau Executive Director Brent Burchett described the first clinic day as emotional, especially when buses and vans began arriving and workers started to line up at the South County Regional Center.

"We've been working on this event for so long, and to see it finally come together for our farmworkers was special," he told New Times. "I think everyone was a half-hour early."

County staff, agricultural employers, Promotores Collaborative of SLO County, and Herencia Indígena were on site to help participants fill out their medical screening forms. Burchett estimates that nearly 20 multilingual county staff and volunteers were present.

Music played in the observation area where participants sat for about 15 minutes after getting the vaccine and snacks were provided. Overall, he said, the event was upbeat and positive.

Michelle Shoresman, Public Health's spokesperson, said the event was extremely successful. The county is planning on conducting these events, alternating between North and South County—Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande—each Friday over the next several weeks, she said.

According to a press release, health educators visited work sites prior to the event to share vaccine information, building on the ongoing work of SLO County's Farm Worker Outreach Task Force. The county established the task force in collaboration with agricultural workers and health care partners to provide COVID-19 prevention information throughout the pandemic.

Farmers and farm labor contractors were also essential in launching the first clinic. Had these employers not encouraged their workers to show up and not provided education about the vaccine, Burchett said he doesn't believe the clinic would have been nearly as successful.

"A healthy workforce is critical to our agricultural industry. We cannot operate without farmworkers," he said. "We never stopped farming during the pandemic. So, many times over this past year we've heard 'thank you, farmworkers,' but today I think we truly showed our gratitude for their work."

Employers and employees are relieved about their inoculations, which Burchett said is just another step—albeit a giant one—in getting through the pandemic.

"We still have to wear masks, we still have to limit exposure and transmission, but we're getting closer to being back to normal," he said.

On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced that the state expected to eliminate vaccine priority tiers in May, opening eligibility to persons 16 and older.

Shoresman said that regardless, Public Health will continue to focus additional attention on vaccinating groups that have been adversely affected by COVID-19.

"Outreach to disadvantaged groups has always been fundamental to Public Health work, so we are continuously seeking ways we can better serve these groups," she said. Δ

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