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Vaccines in the Agricultural Industry

For the past year, agricultural producers and processors have used masks, plastic shielding, temperature checks, and endless sanitation as their weapons against COVID-19. As vaccine supplies continue to expand, more people are becoming eligible and business owners like Grant Kitamura, general manager and part-owner of the onion packing firm Baker & Murakami Produce Co. in Ontario, Oregon, are making time for employees to get vaccinated.

“Once a week, our county health department announces when they are holding a vaccination clinic,” said Kitamura. “We go over who is eligible with our employees, and for those who choose to get vaccinated, we let them go during their shift because these clinics are only offered during work hours.”

Kitamura makes it clear that the vaccine is not a job requirement but is strongly encouraged. He says he doesn’t tally how many of his employees choose to get vaccinated but makes sure the information they need to stay safe and get vaccinated is available in English and Spanish.

“We have several people in management who are bilingual. We are doing our best to share information, prevent the spread and allow people to get vaccines when they are available to them,” said Kitamura.

Reports show Latinos and other people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Craig Yano, owner/operator of Alta Farms LLC and Westwind Produce, just outside Ontario, agrees. “I do believe there are inequities,” said Yano. “For the Latino population, COVID has been harder for them. Many live in multigenerational homes, and that makes it more difficult to self-isolate. Also, hourly jobs that demand you to be there, and that makes it difficult to get away and get vaccinated.”

Working with the Malheur County Health Department, Yano scheduled a Thursday off on his farm and let his employees know that vaccine was available, and if they were interested, they could go, and it was not a job requirement. Yano is a caretaker for his 93-year old father, and the two were recently vaccinated. He says that as more employees become eligible, they will make time for them to get vaccinated if they choose.

“The only way to get back to normal is to get vaccinated,” says Yano. “We are a small operation, and we have more flexibility, and I felt like it was important to give my employees the opportunity.”

In Oregon, all migrant and seasonal farmworkers, seafood and agriculture workers, and food processing workers will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines no later than March 29, 2021. Yano and Kitamura say they will again make time available to their employees to stop the spread, protect their communities, and keep their employees healthy.