California Cantaloupe Farmers Start Vaccinations for Essential Workers
FRESNO, CA - Industry leaders are working harder than ever to protect their employees, and this has never been more true—as essential workers employed by California cantaloupe growers will be some of the first front-line food workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the state.
“We’re so thankful to be able to offer our workers these life-saving vaccines,” said Garrett Patricio of Westside Produce Company, a cantaloupe harvesting, packing, and shipping company in Firebaugh, California. “Farmworkers are just one of the many groups who need and want to be vaccinated, and we urge federal and state leaders to get more shots in more arms of more workers as quickly as possible. This is why it’s just so critically important that we get more vaccines. Protecting our essential workforce is a top priority for us all.”
This week, over 800 workers will receive the shot, according to a press release. Westside Produce Company is located in Fresno County, the leading agricultural county in California which produces a majority of the state’s cantaloupe, making the vaccination rollout a vital priority for those who pick, pack, and cultivate the fruit.
Alongside Westside Produce, other cantaloupe companies including Del Bosque Enterprises, R&N Packing Company, and Toma-Tek Firebaugh have secured vaccines for their workers, made possible by a dedicated team that includes Patricio, California Secretary of Food Agriculture Karen Ross, the Fresno County Department of Public Health, the Fresno Ag Commissioner’s office, and a local healthcare provider, Valley Health Team.
“As soon as we learned an opportunity might exist to have our employees vaccinated, we jumped at it,” explained Patricio. “Unfortunately, vaccines for essential front-line workers throughout the food industry—along with seniors, teachers, and others—are extremely limited in California. We knew that if we missed this chance, we might not have the opportunity again for many, many months. The situation is dire, and we do hope solutions that allow more people to be vaccinated will be coming soon."
The vaccinations at the majority of the Fresno county’s cantaloupe farming operations were made possible by reaching out to local government officials and securing an approved health provider to administer the vaccinations, according to Patricio.
“It was critically important that Valley Health, which has a clinic here in Firebaugh, was already an approved provider for the vaccine,” Patricio said. “We are just so fortunate to have pulled this off.”
While the vaccinations are available to all workers, they are not required to receive them, meaning cantaloupe farmers will need to continue enforcing the safety measures that were put in place during last season’s harvest to make sure workers remain protected.
“We’re offering vaccines to any of our employees who wish to receive them, but we’re not requiring anyone to do so,” said Patricio. “Most workers are anxious to be protected from COVID by getting vaccinated, but not everyone has agreed to receive it.”
Throughout the past week, Patricio, along with other local cantaloupe growers, have hosted a series of drive-thru vaccination events at their facilities, with the Valley Health Team medical staff administering the vaccines and local law enforcement helping to manage any logistical challenges.
“We are all very happy to be getting the vaccine today, as it will allow us to stay safe while we’re working and will protect us and our families,” said some of the workers who received the vaccine through this initiative.
While the cantaloupe industry experienced very few COVID outbreaks last year, the vaccines still go a long way in preventing more outbreaks and reducing the risk for workers, and more efforts are sure to emerge when the vaccine becomes more accessible throughout California.
“Fresno County Department of Health has been working to make sure we have a plan in place for vaccinating farm employees,” said Tom Fuller, who works for the Fresno County Health Department as the liaison to the ag industry. “We’ve tested this plan and it’s working successfully, as we’re seeing with these vaccination events involving cantaloupe growers. We’re ready to do this in a big way as soon as more vaccines become available through the State.”
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