State agriculture officials in Oregon are urging growers to provide opportunities for their employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus now that eligibility for the shots has been expanded.
As vaccine supplies continue to arrive, all migrant and seasonal farmworkers, seafood and agriculture workers, and food processing workers could get shots as of March 29.
Grant Kitamura, general manager and part-owner of the onion packing firm Baker & Murakami Produce Co. in Ontario, Ore, said he is making time for employees to get vaccinated, although it's not a job requirement.
“Once a week, our county health department announces when they are holding a vaccination clinic,” said Kitamura. “We go over who is eligible with our employees, and for those who choose to get vaccinated, we let them go during their shift because these clinics are only offered during work hours.”
Craig Yano, owner/operator of Alta Farms LLC and Westwind Produce, just outside Ontario, said he believes reports that suggest Latinos and other people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“I do believe there are inequities,” said Yano, who has provided days off for his employees to get vaccinated. “For the Latino population, COVID has been harder for them. Many live in multigenerational homes, and that makes it more difficult to self-isolate. Also, hourly jobs that demand you to be there, and that makes it difficult to get away and get vaccinated.”
Kitamura and Yano were quoted in a promotional news release from the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
State escalates timeline
The push comes as Gov. Kate Brown said March 26 she would accelerate the state's eligibility timeline by two weeks, enabling people over age 16 with underlying medical conditions, frontline workers and those living in multi-generational homes to sign up for vaccines on April 5, according to The Associated Press.
All Oregonians over the age of 16 will become eligible for vaccination no later than May 1, the wire service reported.
Amid fears of another wave of cases, Oregon's 505 new cases on March 26 marked the first time the state had recorded more than 500 cases in a day since Feb. 25, the Albany Democrat-Herald reported.
For the past year, agricultural producers and processors have used masks, plastic shielding, temperature checks, and endless sanitation as their weapons against COVID-19, state ag officials noted.
Here is some of Western Farm Press/Western Farmer-Stockman's recent coverage of testing and vaccination efforts throughout the West: