Tri-City Herald

Hundreds of Tri-cities food processing, farm workers turn out for COVID vaccines

- BY JENNIFER KING jking@tricityher­ald.com

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.

 ?? JENNIFER KING
Tri-city Herald ?? Pharmacist Johnny Nguyen administer­s a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to a Douglas Fruit worker Friday during a pop-up clinic outside of the company’s Pasco facility. The agricultur­al producer partnered with the Washington State Tree Fruit Associatio­n and Safeway/albertsons to administer Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen single-dose vaccine to employees.
JENNIFER KING Tri-city Herald Pharmacist Johnny Nguyen administer­s a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to a Douglas Fruit worker Friday during a pop-up clinic outside of the company’s Pasco facility. The agricultur­al producer partnered with the Washington State Tree Fruit Associatio­n and Safeway/albertsons to administer Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen single-dose vaccine to employees.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA