Hundreds of Tri-cities food processing, farm workers turn out for COVID vaccines
In a push to protect essential farm workers from COVID-19 ahead of the upcoming harvest season, about 375 Douglas Fruit Company employees were vaccinated outside of the Pasco packing warehouse on Friday.
The pop-up clinic was organized by the fruit producer in partnership with Safeway/albertsons and the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
While vaccine hesitancy has been a point of concern and discussion among health officials and local representatives, Douglas Fruit reports that the response to the vaccination clinic was overwhelmingly positive.
In fact, all of the nearly 250 H-2A farm workers living in onsite worker housing chose to get vaccinated Friday.
Lindsey Peonio, Human Resources Director with Douglas Fruit, says the company is really excited about the response.
“From the beginning we’ve had constant, open, clear and honest communication about what was going on, even when we weren’t really sure what was going on,” Peonio said. “So I think if you go all the way back to last March, that kind of has laid down the groundwork for the response you see here.”
In Washington state, agricultural workers are classified under Phase 1B Tier 2 for vaccine eligibility.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced that tier was eligible on March 17, paving the way for Douglas Fruit employees to receive their vaccinations.
One hurdle the company had to overcome was getting the vaccines to the workers who wanted them.
State and local health departments were strapped for resources and couldn’t provide onsite pop-up clinics, Peonio says.
At the same time, strict transportation restrictions under COVID guidelines and limited vaccine availability made it challenging for employees to take advantage of community resources like the fairgrounds.
That’s why when the Washington State Tree Fruit Association reached out to Douglas Fruit about putting on a clinic in partnership with Safeway/ Albertsons, she said they jumped on it.
On Friday, workers were bused in groups to the parking lot outside of the Pasco warehouse. They stood in lines, masked up and stood six feet apart waiting for their turn for one of three vaccine stations.
At a table nearby, Elia Vargas, a Safeway pharmacy technician, filled syringes with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 single-dose vaccine. Several feet away, Johnny Nguyen, a pharmacist, administered the single-dose vaccine to Omar Andvade, a forklift driver from Kennewick.
After receiving his vaccine, Andvade waited out his 15-minute observation time with other vaccinated workers in rows of socially-distanced chairs.
Gabriel Ibarra Ibarra, a worker from Mexico, explained why he was excited to get vaccinated.
“I want to get vaccinated to avoid contagion,” he said in Spanish.
Ibarra Ibarra says even when workers try to maintain their distance from each other they still come in contact with a lot of other people. For him, being vaccinated means keeping himself, his fellow workers and his family safe.
“When I return to my country, I know my family will be fine and that I won’t spread it at all because I will already be vaccinated,” he said.
Douglas Fruit is planning to host another vaccine clinic in May when a new group of about 190 H-2A workers arrives from Mexico.
“We’re just so thankful for all of our essential workers because they really are what kept everyone running though this last season and very grateful for Safeway and Albertsons and the Tree Fruit Association for providing us this opportunity,” Peonio said.