In late March, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Morrow County Public Health co-hosted a pilot vaccination event in Boardman for agricultural workers. Migrant and seasonal farmworkers became eligible for vaccination in 22 counties on March 22 and across all of Oregon on March 29.
“This event helped save lives,” said Jorge Martinez Zapata, OHA’s Regional Outreach Coordinator for Northeast Oregon. “Over 1,000 people from all walks of life, including some of the most underserved groups, received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.”
The four-day event at the Sage Center featured live radio broadcasts in Spanish by local station La Raza. Multilingual staff and volunteers assisted participants through the process.
Agricultural workers, including farm, seafood and food processing facility workers, ensure that Oregon has a reliable food supply and play a vital role in the state’s economy. Their working and living conditions mean that they are at high risk of getting COVID-19.
Maria Vargas, another Regional Outreach Coordinator who volunteered at the event, spoke with people who told her their reasons for being vaccinated.
“It was important to me to get the vaccine to do my part to put an end to this pandemic,” Sebastian, pictured right, told her. For others, it was important to protect their communities, their families, and themselves.
“It was wonderful and incredibly rewarding to help so many people who seemed grateful for this opportunity,” Vargas said. “Although the event helped vaccinate over 1,000 individuals, it would have been great to see more farmworkers and Latinx people there,” she added.
“What we learned, for the future,” Zapata said, “is that in order to reach more migrant and seasonal farmworkers with vaccine services, we’ll need to take the vaccines directly to employers and to where people live and socialize.”
Operationally, the event will serve as a model for future events. “It was a seamless process for participants,” he said.
Melissa Lindsay, a commissioner of the Morrow County Board of Commissioners, was pleased with the event.
“It has been the biggest pleasure of my short County service career to have been a part of this team and watched everyone of you bring lifesaving support in such a professional and graceful/kind way,” she wrote to the team who worked on the event.
All 1,066 people who were vaccinated received appointments to return in three weeks for their second dose.
This article first appeared in the March 31, 2021 issue of Oregon Coronavirus Update.