BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — They're one of the more affected groups when it comes to COVID-19. One study from the California Institute for Rural Studies shows that agriculture workers were three times more likely to contract COVID-19 than those outside of the industry.
Hernan Hernandez with the Farmworkers Foundation feels that the group continues to face challenges including being overlooked during the pandemic.
"When we think about essential workers, we mostly think of medical workers right?" Hernandez said. "We think about law enforcement."
As a key component to the food chain, Hernandez believes farmworkers should be at the forefront of the vaccine distribution as their job duties are just as important as any other essential worker.
"These are individuals that are putting food on your table -and if it wasn't for them and their sacrifices on a day to day basis," said Hernandez. "Then guess what, our food chain would be completely cut off."
According to Public Health, it could be some time before this can occur as farmworkers have two groups ahead of them. Right now Kern County is currently in phase one of the vaccine distribution process which includes paramedics, EMTs, and other frontline workers. The second tier will include but is not limited to public health field staff and those in primary care clinics. Those who qualify to get vaccinated in tier 3, directly before farmworkers, would include dental clinics and pharmacy staff.
Matt Constantine with Kern County Public Health said agriculture workers' time will come in phase 1b, after tier 3 in phase 1a is complete, which the state defines as first responders, education, food and ag, transit, grocery store workers, and a few others.
Constantine said this group means a large number of individuals will need to be vaccinated and they believe setting up large mass vaccination clinics would be ideal.
"Growing the fairgrounds would probably be a good alternative," He said. "We're still going to rely on our local providers, those 80 or so."
As for Hernandez, he says the county also needs to have more educational resources about the vaccines, since he says around half of our local farmworkers either wouldn't take or are undecided about the vaccine.