Since the start of the pandemic, Hernan Herandez and his employees with the California Farmworker Foundation have been out in the fields of San Joaquin Valley, handing out tens of thousands of face masks and administering COVID-19 tests to agricultural workers.
“We're testing about 200 to 250 farmworkers a day, as opposed to in the past only having around 40 or 50,” said Hernandez, executive director of the Tulare County-based non-profit organization that provides services to the area’s agricultural workforce. He says at first, farmworkers were hesitant about getting COVID-19 tests because of “bad ads” they saw online, but now they’re more comfortable.
Earlier this month, the foundation decided to survey workers as they were handing out masks and checking for infections. They polled more than 150 farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley, and about half said they either wouldn’t get the vaccine or were undecided. The other half said they would get the vaccine.
Hernandez says when they asked people hesitant about the vaccine about their reasons, the respondents cited misinformation they found online.
“We've heard a whole bunch of conspiracy theories, anything from ‘this is a vaccination that's going to sterilize an individual’ and that also ‘the vaccine is going to cause COVID,’” he said.
“A lot of it is driven by just the click bait that they see on Facebook,” Hernandez added.
Hernandez’s group is now surveying farmworkers across California, such as the Central Coast and in the Coachella Valley, to see if they have the same vaccine hesitancy, and so that they can learn more about farmworkers’ needs as the pandemic lingers on.
“They're afraid because there's too much uncertainty,” Hernandez said about workers’ fear of side effects. “A lot of them will tell you that they don't want to be the guinea pigs.”
Hernandez says the poll results are cause for worry. He wants farmworkers to have a high uptake of the vaccine so that the disease is less likely to spread among them, and so that the food system remains productive and viable. In the new year, the farmworker foundation plans to launch a public health campaign to provide fact-based vaccine information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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