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A group of 50 Fresno County agricultural workers were vaccinated against COVID-19 Monday morning at the Pappas Family Farm in Mendota.

“We simply do not have enough vaccine.”Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco

This only represents .07% of about 70,000 farm and food production workers in Fresno County. “We’re really planting a seed and we’re really just trying to see how that seed can sprout,” says Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra.

“We simply do not have enough vaccine,” said Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco during a news conference at the facility. “We have a distribution system ready to vaccinate 30,000 people a week, and we can ramp that up to 50,000 a week, but we need the vaccine.”

The Board of Supervisors will vote during their Tuesday meeting to send a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom requesting more vaccine be allocated to Fresno County.

Supervisor Buddy Mendes says the state and federal governments are like, “the two gangs that can’t shoot straight,” when it comes to getting the vaccine distribution right.

Meanwhile, officials with a local non-profit are ready to assist by literally putting their boots on and meeting the farm workers where they are.

“One of the gaps out here on the west side is that we need to take the vaccine to the farmers in the field,” says Davena Witcher, executive director of Alliance for Medical Outreach & Relief. “And that is the gap that AMOR is stepping into.”

AMOR is a nonprofit created to provide resources and services to underserved communities. Volunteers spent seven hours getting Pappas employees pre-registered for their vaccines Monday morning.

Witcher says she’s working to register the Mendota AMOR wellness center so their volunteer physicians and nurses can take mobile units right to the locations of where farmers are working.

Photo of Davena Witcher

“One of the gaps out here on the west side is that we need to take the vaccine to the farmers in the field. And that is the gap that AMOR is stepping into.”Davena Witcher executive director of Alliance for Medical Outreach & Relief

AMOR has also worked for the past three years building trust in the community that will be essential to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. “We‘ve already started rolling out education opportunities so that we can get ahead of the game,” says Witcher.

In addition, working with the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools allows AMOR to be in schools to work directly with the children. Witcher says, “It’s a multi-prong operation and we’re all just partnering together to get the job done.”

It Takes 3 To Vaccinate

“For every vaccine, it takes three people to administer that vaccine. You have to have the backup people as well as the person that’s administering it,” says Witcher.

She says AMOR wants to set up their mobile vaccine clinics properly and in a respectful manner.

“We want people to have the opportunity to sit in a safe environment while they recover from the vaccine and (stay for) monitoring,” says Witcher.

GV Wire℠ asked Witcher how it makes her feel to be on the front lines of getting workers vaccinated against the virus that has disproportionally hit their community very hard.

Amazing,” she answers. “The community out here has stolen my heart. They are in need and they deserve to have every opportunity that we have right in Fresno.”

Much More Vaccine Needed for Agriculture Workers

“We really need to get up into the tens of thousands a day, probably somewhere in the range of 10,000 a day to really properly get the agricultural community vaccinated,” said Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau. “The vaccines are just not there.”

Brandau says the letter the county will vote to approve Tuesday will be a strong demand letter that gets sent straight to the Governor.

Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau speaks at Fresno County news conference debuting a vaccine clinic for ag workers in Mendota. (Jahz Tello)

“We really need to get up into the tens of thousands a day, probably somewhere in the range of 10,000 a day to really properly get the agricultural community vaccinated.”Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau

In December, the state launched a ‘Vaccinate All 58’ campaign. At the time, Newsom said the goal of the campaign was for a safe, fair and equitable vaccine for all 58 of California’s counties. Initial doses were prioritized for essential health care workers and those among vulnerable long-term care settings.

On Monday, Newsom announced a series of improvements to the state’s vaccination plan. Moving forward, there will be a single statewide standard and movement through the tiers. The state will continue through 65+, health care workers, and prioritize emergency services, food and agriculture workers, teachers and school staff. From there, the state will transition to age-based eligibility, allowing California to scale up and down quickly, while ensuring vaccine goes to disproportionately impacted communities.

To increase available supply based on existing in-state vaccines, the Department of Public Health announced a process that will allow for the reallocation of vaccines from providers who have not used at least 65 percent of their available supply on hand for a week and have not submitted a plan for administering the remaining vaccine to prioritized populations within four days of notice.

“Everybody has their own opinion as to why it’s not happening as it should. My opinion is that it’s incompetence,” says Brandau. “Even today, the governor’s announcing that he’s lifting his own stay at home order for the state of California, all regions. Well, that even that doesn’t make sense because our numbers are not matching what was required.”

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