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March 3, 2021

Local agriculture workers receive vaccine

WATSONVILLE—In the span of less than a week, Dignity Health-Dominican Hospital was able to set up a mass Covid-19 vaccination clinic on the outskirts of Watsonville to inoculate 1,000 people in the agriculture industry.

Dignity Health’s parent corporation, CommonSpirit, said it would have 2,000 extra doses for the Santa Cruz County health care giant late last week. 

Dominican Hospital President/CEO Nanette Mickiewicz said the organization knew it wanted to use half of those doses in South Santa Cruz County. The only question was how they could distribute those shots in a quick and organized way.

Enter the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau and the California Strawberry Commission, who since the early months of the pandemic have led a Covid-19 task force specific to the agriculture industry. Tom Am Rhein, the chair of that task force and a local berry grower for decades, said they started contacting businesses—mostly smaller operations in all fields of the industry—Saturday afternoon.

“By Monday morning we had way more candidates than we had vaccines,” Am Rhein said.

About 500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered Wednesday, and rest will be used at a second clinic today. The agriculture workers will receive their second dose in about three weeks.

Am Rhein and Mickiewicz said it is unclear if another similar vaccine clinic specific to farmworkers will open its doors soon, as doses are still in limited supply and the state and county are now prioritizing those 65 years and older. Still, Am Rhein and Mickiewicz deem this week’s clinic a success, and a template for future clinics and fast distribution of vaccines when tens of thousands of agriculture workers migrate to the coast during the fast-approaching harvesting season.

The hope, Am Rhein said, is that those who received vaccines at the clinic will serve as “ambassadors” for the vaccine and encourage their fellow farmworkers to receive it.

“This proves that we can do it. That we can do it right, that we can do it very quickly, that we can do it equitably and that it doesn’t take a lot of infrastructure,” Am Rhein said. “This was Excel sheets and pencil and paper. It’s a very simple system that we’ve got here and it works.”

Added Mickiewicz: “We set this up in the last 72 hours, which is pretty amazing. We have volunteer physicians, nurses, staff members, people are here today because they want to help and they think it’s important to get these vaccines done.”

People of Latinx origin are heavily represented in the Santa Cruz County agricultural community.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), racial and ethnic minority groups, including Latinx peoples, are disproportionately represented among Covid-19 cases in the U.S. due to long-standing systemic health and social inequities.

This has certainly been borne out by statistics locally. The Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency reports that, as of Feb. 2, a full 54.35 percent of the total Covid-19 cases countywide are within the Latinx community. By comparison, the next largest group of Covid-19 cases is among Caucasians, at just 17.97 percent of the total cases locally.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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