Survey reflects California labor shortage

Workers in California's agricultural and food sectors will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 1b, which may begin in a few months depending on logistics and vaccine supply.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is rolling out its COVID-19 vaccine plan, which includes details about when agricultural workers can expect to receive vaccinations.

Health care workers and residents in long-term care settings are first in line, in what the state has dubbed Phase 1a, which includes about 3 million people and could take months.

Phase 1b, which will begin when Phase 1a is complete, will include individuals ages 75 or older along with workers in the education, childcare, emergency services and the food and agriculture sectors.

Farm groups and farmworker advocates call this prioritization a victory after months of lobbying.

At the federal level, the American Farm Bureau Federation sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden's transition team in December asking his administration to prioritize vaccine access for people working in the food sector.

The letter requested that people working in "planting, harvesting, processing and distribution of human and animal food" be prioritized for the vaccine.

At the state level, the California Farm Bureau Federation and several other agricultural organizations have expressed the need for workers in the food sector to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

According to the Center for Farmworker Families, the state has an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 farmworkers, about 75% of whom are undocumented and don't have regular access to healthcare with insurance.

But the state's decision to include the agricultural sector in Phase 1b may not mean farms are first in line. Although agriculture and food workers are listed in "tier one" of Phase 1b, officials have not yet decided whether food workers will receive vaccination at the same time as people in other professions within that tier or whether vaccines will be distributed by occupation.

According to Ag Association Management Services Inc., an advocacy group, people listed in tier one include about 1.4 million education and childcare workers including teachers, 1.1 million emergency services workers, 3.4 million food and agriculture workers including grocery store workers and 2.6 million people who are 75 or older.

According to the state Department of Public Health, exactly how and where the vaccines will be administered among these populations will be up to the Drafting Guidelines Workgroup, which includes doctors, health representatives, pharmacists and others.

As of Jan. 11, the state estimates that the "general public" who are not in Phase 1 will start getting vaccinated by this spring. But California's distribution is behind schedule. As of Jan. 9, 734,405 vaccine doses have been administered statewide.

According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state has about 2.4 million health care workers, so the distribution could take months.

COVID-19 vaccinations will be free to California residents. The California Farm Bureau Federation encourages farmers and ranchers to be in touch with their local public health departments about when and where to access vaccinations in the coming months.

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