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Three times as many people hospitalized with COVID-19 are Latinx Americans compared to white Americans. The toll has been particularly high in rural areas and small towns where a lot of Latinx people work in agriculture.
As farm work, and therefore COVID risk, pick up through the spring and summer, getting vaccines into the arms of workers is a priority.
Huge fruit-packing warehouses crowd next to orchards across the Yakima Valley in Washington, staffed mostly by Latinx workers, including 49-year-old Angelina Lara.
“I pack and I sort apples. It’s all year-round,” Lara said.
Last year, COVID spread like wildfire in the crowded plants. At one point, Lara and other workers walked off the job demanding better pandemic safety.
Now, Lara’s taken safety into her own hands. “I have gotten vaccinated,” she said. “I had my second dosage a week ago, so now I feel safer.”
Essential agriculture workers became eligible last month, and Lara’s employer has informed workers where they can get vaccinated. Some local employers are providing even more encouragement.
“If someone receives their vaccine before May 15, we gave one additional vacation day,” said Bob Gerst, who is in charge of human resources at John I. Haas, a large hops producer.
The company has also shuttled dozens of employees to a local clinic on the clock. Gerst said the company feels a sense of responsibility to its mostly Latinx workers.
“Both Latino and Black Americans more than twice as likely to die of COVID at every age, and yet there is a fair amount of distrust of the vaccine in communities of color,” he said.
Lara hears plenty of that at the packing plant.
“The employees, a lot of them are not too happy with getting vaccinated,” Lara said. “Mostly it’s because of the rumors people spread about the vaccine — that it’s an experiment, or some people have died from it.”
Farmworker advocates are trying to counter misinformation, including on community radio. Radio Cadena, “The Voice of the Farmworker,” airs public service announcements and call-in shows about COVID and the benefits of vaccination.
Research coordinator Elizabeth Torres referenced a graphic novel that organizers hand out at community events and farmworker camps, which depicts scenes of folks who already got vaccinated dispelling false information.
Torres said local health care providers and employers now need to bring mobile vaccination to farms and packing plants.
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