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DeSantis Urged to Prioritize FL Farmworkers in COVID Vaccine Rollout

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In the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey, 23% percent of farmworkers said they haven't sought medical care because the cost is too high. With economic hardship of COVID-19, that number has likely increased. (Adobe Stock)
In the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey, 23% percent of farmworkers said they haven't sought medical care because the cost is too high. With economic hardship of COVID-19, that number has likely increased. (Adobe Stock)
 By Michayla Savitt - Producer, Contact
April 1, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Florida farmworkers' rights groups say it is urgent farmworkers be deemed "essential" in Gov. Ron DeSantis' COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan.

The groups put their views in a letter to the governor in January, calling for better healthcare for farmworkers and asking that all incoming temporary, non-immigrant workers arrive vaccinated, or be vaccinated first in the U.S.

Mariana Blanco, assistant executive director of the Guatemalan Maya Center, said they also want to see an expansion of COVID-19 testing sites, since many are inaccessible to farmworkers.

"If the Health Department would provide us the vaccines and a mobile clinic, we'd be able to have volunteers and registered nurses that we already have contact with, and we'd have all the translators," Blanco suggested. "And we'd just go directly to the fields and vaccinate the farmworkers."

Blanco pointed out those in opposition assume farmworkers won't want to be vaccinated, or that doses couldn't be kept cold enough in mobile settings.

According to the Guatemalan Maya Center, 600 farmworkers and families, regularly tested for COVID-19 one night a week, had a 30% infection rate.

Nikki Fried, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in a "Protect Farmworkers Roundtable" held Wednesday, said she and Vice President Kamala Harris toured FEMA locations last week to create smaller vaccination sites.

Blanco contended more sites are long overdue.

"We know that our community wants to get vaccinated," Blanco stressed. "We have had a waitlist for a couple of months now, and so now, it's just providing them access to this vaccine. And so, the pushback from the mobile clinic was pretty disappointing to us."

Fried is in the race for governor, and considered a top challenger of DeSantis.

The Palm Beach Health Department is working with the groups to facilitate a specific day when farmworkers could be vaccinated.

Blanco stressed there is a long road ahead to make that happen, and pointed to the challenges these workers already face to making vaccination appointments online.

"A lot of them are illiterate," Blanco explained. "A lot, most, of them don't speak English, and now having to only make the appointment online, all of it just became absolutely impossible for any of our community members to even come close to think about getting the vaccine."

Blanco added the governor hasn't yet responded to the letter.

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