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COVID vaccines slow to reach farmworkers

Todd Fitchette wfp-todd-fitchette-farmworkers-29.jpg
Farmworkers still waiting for COVID vaccinations, despite promises to place them at the front of the line.
Arizona, California officials complain that agriculture community 'shorted' in COVID vaccine rollout

Farm industry representatives in Arizona and California are disappointed with how slowly COVID vaccinations are being provided to farmworkers and the agricultural community.

Tim Dunn, a House member in the Arizona Legislature whose district includes Yuma, said the state has grossly under shorted agricultural communities through its census-based approach to allocating COVID vaccines.

"We have 6,900 vaccines for the whole city," Dunn said.

In border communities like Yuma, where agricultural workers are still allowed to cross the International Border to attend jobs in Arizona, there is a large disconnect between the actual number of people in the region and what state officials have allowed communities like Yuma to receive based on official census data.

Dunn said he is working with other state representatives and the state's federal delegation to provide more vaccines to a region that is said to have the highest COVID infection rates in the world.

Yuma's population of about 100,000 fulltime residents is augmented every winter months by an equal number of winter visitors from across North America seeking to escape the snow and ice common in northern latitudes. Moreover, Yuma and its surrounding farming regions that extend into California's Imperial Valley regularly tap from the more than one million people residing in towns like Mexicali and San Luis Rio Colorado.

Manual Cunha, Jr., president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League is equally as disappointed by that state's lack of vaccines for essential workers, including farmworkers.

Cunha said it will be incumbent upon California to ensure that farmworkers have access to both doses of the vaccines at the appropriate times before May, when it will be difficult for the employer to be without employees after receiving their vaccines.

"These workers go to the fields, packing houses and processing plants every day and should be given some priority," Cunha said.

Growers in both states are already struggling with a shortage of agricultural workers due to COVID and the ongoing national immigration policy.

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