Workers at an orchard in Yakima, Washington, pull on equipment while wearing masks and gloves to protect against the coronavirus. A recent study by UC Berkeley found that farmworkers were less likely to get the vaccine, even though they were more likely than the general public to contract Covid-19. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Food and agricultural workers are supposed to be a part of the next group of people to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, but experts worry that many workers won’t get vaccinated even if they have the opportunity.

A study this summer found that about a third of farmworkers said they were unsure or unlikely to get vaccinated. 

A little over 30% of those workers, the researchers found, were unsure or unlikely to get the vaccine.

The study by the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health and the Clinic de Salud del Valle de Salinas surveyed more than 1,000 farmworkers about Covid-19. They found that farmworkers were less likely to get the vaccine, even though they were more likely than the general public to contract Covid-19. 

About half of farmworkers (52%) said they were extremely likely to get a Covid-19 vaccine. Twenty percent said they were unsure, and 11% said unlikely or very unlikely to do so. 

According to the study, 65% of those who said they weren’t extremely likely to get vaccinated reported fear of side effects as the main reason, while 12% reported mistrust in the government.

The study found that more than 13% of the farmworkers surveyed had evidence of a current Covid-19 infection. The average rate for all other workers in California is three percent. 

“Latinos in the United States have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, accounting for a large proportion of Covid-19 cases and experiencing 5 to 7 times the risk of Covid-19 mortality relative to Whites,”  Farmworkers, most of whom are Latino and from Mexico, are essential workers and ensure the continuity of the nation’s food supply.” 

The CDC’s immunization policy committee voted to recommend that food and ag workers join first responders, teachers, corrections officers, daycare workers, manufacturing workers, U.S. postal service employees, public transit workers, and grocery store workers as part of the Phase 1b essential workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Also in the Phase 1 b group are those over 75. 

All other “essential workers,” like food servers, those in IT and tech, media and communications, ad those in water and wastewater services – to name just a few, would be part of the Phase 1c group. 

Members of food industry groups hailed the federal guidelines as ensuring essential workers keep Americans safe while continuing to provide food to the country’s supply chain. 

“Food industry workers have gone above and beyond in demonstrating their continued resilience to meet unprecedented expectations and demand,” Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of The Food Industry Association, said in a statement.  ”Beyond the deep cleaning, shelf replenishing, and physical distancing tasks, the pandemic has offered a new perspective on how essential the food industry worker is to the function of society.”

Julie Anna Potts, president of the Meat Institute, said including food workers would affect rural America. 

“Meat Institute members stand ready to support vaccination for our diverse workforce, which will also deliver wide-ranging health benefits in rural and high-risk communities,” she said in a statement.

Across rural communities, meat packing facilities were sites of some of the biggest Covid outbreaks.

An analysis in May by the Daily Yonder and the Food & Environment Reporting Network found that counties with meatpacking facilities had infection rates five times higher than other rural counties. 

In another study, researchers at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business found “a strong positive relationship” between meatpacking plants and “local community transmission,” and suggested that one in every 12 cases of Covid-19 can be related to an outbreak at a meat processing plant. 

Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, is expected to approve the guidelines calling for food workers to be part of the early wave of vaccinations.

But when ag workers and meat processing plant workers can expect to get the vaccine is another story. 

The first vaccines are going to healthcare workers and long-term care facilities residents. The Trump administration left the decisions on how best to distribute the vaccines to the states. 

“Vaccines are being distributed widely to hospitals to inoculate their front-line workers,” said Brock Slabach, senior vice president for member services for the National Rural Health Association. 

“Some states have not prioritized rural hospitals yet, but I’m hearing that they’re waiting for their Moderna vaccines to get it out to these remote facilities.”

Once the vaccinations have reached a certain point for Phase 1a, Phase 1b can begin. The CDC’s timeline suggests that ag and food workers could be getting the vaccine within a few weeks. 

Connecticut’s Governor Ned Lamont estimated that Phase 1a would be wrapped up in his state by the end of January and that Phase 1b vaccinations would begin after that. 

In Texas, the state health department there came up with its own Phase 1b guidelines that will give vaccines to those over 65 with high-risk medical conditions, and some essential workers. The department anticipates the Phase 1b vaccinations to start in a few weeks. 

But the fears about immigrant community’s willingness to get vaccinated remain. Don Kerwin, executive director of the nonpartisan think tank Center for Migration Studies in New York, said in a statement that there will be a need for outreach to immigrant communities in order to educate them about the vaccine. However, he said, that has not begun yet. 

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