Dr. John Tomkowiak and Jason Clark: Protecting agricultural workers from COVID-19

By Dr. John Tomkowiak and Jason Clark

By Dr. John Tomkowiak and Jason Clark

Washington’s farming community faced a daunting challenge two years ago.

How is Washington’s agriculture industry keeping workers safe to harvest, process, and deliver food during the COVID-19 pandemic? In response to this challenge, more than 60 organizations in Washington have formed an alliance: the Partnership for Our Food Security. Partners include the Range Community Clinic, Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, Washington Farm Bureau, Washington State Tree Fruit Association, Washington Department of Agriculture, and our organizations, WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, and Second Harvest. The mission is simple. Educate and vaccinate as many agricultural workers as possible, as quickly as possible.

By all reports, the results of this coordinated effort have been remarkable. Together, the partnership has achieved a 95% vaccination rate among H2A migrant farm workers and a rate of over 50% among in-state farm workers. H2A is short for the visa used to legally come to the United States to work in agriculture.

These impressive results have been achieved through education and access.

The partnership listened to workers’ concerns and responded to them. The partners enlisted voices of confidence in farming, political, religious and Hispanic communities across the state, including Bishop Yakima Joseph Tyson, State Rep. Alex Ybarra, former City Councilman Everett Paul Roberts and Pasco’s physician, Dr. Raul Garcia, to speak to workers and their families about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. These messengers spoke through a variety of platforms, including radio, television, and live presentations to groups and individuals across the state.

In cooperation and with the support of agricultural companies, partner organizations set up mobile vaccination clinics in vineyards, fields, packing houses, processing plants, churches, schools, food drives , health clinics and apartment buildings. In other words, wherever agricultural workers work, play, live and pray, Partnership for Our Food Security was there.

The Range Community Clinic has held more than 40 COVID-19 vaccination clinics at its William A. Crosetto Mobile Health Care Unit in Fairfield, Republic, Curlew, Rosalia, Clarkston, Garfield and other rural eastern communities. Washington since 2020. WSU medical, nursing and pharmacy staff students, clinics have been coordinated with local public health districts to administer more than 3,000 vaccinations.

Second Harvest held a bilingual food and vaccine drive where community members could pick up a box of food and speak with medical professionals to see if receiving a COVID-19 vaccine would be right for them.

With over 255 community members served, the event could be said to have been a success. It was just one of many events that the partnership helped organize.

Our success would not be possible without the leadership of Jim Waldo and the countless hours that all of our partners have dedicated to this volunteer effort.

The partnership understands that the COVID-19 pandemic is a marathon and is committed to continuing this effort until the pandemic is over. Our goal is to keep Washington farm workers healthy and safe from COVID-19 this harvest season.

If you would like more information about the partnership or to join our efforts, please contact Gerri Downs @[email protected]

Dr. John Tomkowiak is the founding dean of WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. Jason Clark is President and CEO of Second Harvest Inland Northwest. Both are in Spokane.

Comments are closed.