Connecticut farms will have the opportunity to host mobile clinics for farm workers who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a press release by the Department of Agriculture.
The program is being run through a partnership between the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Labor.
Joan Nichols, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, said she had received phone calls from farms asking if there was a way they could get their workers vaccinated on-site.
Nichols said that some of the associations’ member farms will host between 200 and 400 seasonal workers between now and October and many will arrive from out of state. She added that some of the farms have workers who come in on H-2A visas, or visas that allow agricultural workers who are not U.S. citizens to enter the country for work purposes. These individuals often live in congregate housing, increasing the risk of contracting COVID.
Bryan Hurlburt, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture, said that the state was working with health care providers like UConn, the Community Health Center and Generations Family Health Center to provide mobile vaccine clinics. He said that Griffin Hospital in Derby would provide some
Dr. Bruce Gould, professor of medicine at UConn School of Medicine and medical director at the Hartford Department of Health and Human Services, said that vaccinating farmworkers was critical at this juncture.
“They are essential workers. Every piece of food you put in your mouth has been touched by a migrant worker,” he said.
Gould said that UConn and the other organizations had been bringing medical care to farm workers since 1997. In a typical year, they run field clinics, where medical students and volunteer physicians offer primary care, physical therapy and access to prescription medication.
Herlbert and Gould both said that the trust that the doctors had established with the farm workers over time would be important for getting them vaccinated.
“Trust is an enormous issue with any population, but I think because of the tenor of conversation over the last four-plus years … [they] are always concerned about drawing attention to themselves,” said Gould.
Gould said that it was important to bring medical care out to the farms, rather than expecting them to seek out the doctors.
“People work long hours. If it’s a sunny day they may not come back until 9 pm,” he said. “They won’t take off, so you have to bring the care to them.”
Gould said he wasn’t sure yet which vaccines would be offered. While the Johnson and Johnson vaccine had some advantages — it is easier to store and handle, and only requires one dose — he said they also needed to consider how comfortable people felt receiving it.
Farms can apply online to host a clinic. Depending on the size and locations of the farms, the clinics may be held on site at farms or in a location that is accessible to multiple farms, such as a nearby church or community center parking lot.
The clinics are free to host. Vaccinations are free and will not require identification or insurance. Applications are available here until May 10.