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CARLSBAD, Calif. (Border Report) — The strawberry fields in Carlsbad are a landmark and are visible from Interstate 5 as people commute between Los Angeles and San Diego, and this is where the region’s first field workers were vaccinated for COVID-19.

The vaccinations started a few days ago as more and more counties throughout California push to inoculate their field and farmworkers. In San Diego County, vaccination teams are visiting farms throughout the area taking the vaccine to the fields.

“I know what they mean not only to our economy but to our culture,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “These are folks for whom getting a smartphone to fight for an appointment to one of our supercenters may not be a reality, and so, we wanted to intentionally and consciously go to the fields.”

According to Fletcher, the plan is to fan out to vaccinate as many people as possible in the coming weeks.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. (Courtesy: County of San Diego)

“The reality is that a lot of folks in our county are not able to have access to the vaccination via one of our established systems, and our farmworkers are chief among them,” he said.

Fletcher and other proponents of vaccinating farmworkers say this labor force faces a bigger risk for getting COVID-19.

According to a study conducted by the University of California San Francisco, agricultural workers in the state have seen a 59 percent increase in mortality rates since the pandemic began.

The study also found that most field workers, especially ones who are undocumented, are less likely to carry health insurance or have access to medical care and the vaccine.

A few years ago, a National Agricultural Workers survey found that only 37 percent of California’s 800,000 agricultural workers have health insurance.

“We need to make this a priority to make sure we take care of our farmworkers,” Fletcher said. “We have similar outreach for homebound seniors, similar efforts for folks in long-term care, we have similar efforts for folks in remote and rural areas, so it’s important when you’re doing the vaccine distribution that it’s done equitably and available to all, which means even the hard-to-reach communities even if we have to make a greater effort.”

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