Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available for all Connecticut residents over the age of 16 years, we must ensure equal access to the vaccine for all community members, especially vulnerable populations. In Connecticut, one such population that deserves our attention and support are our migrant farmworkers.
On Feb. 1, 2021 the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement supporting equal access to COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants. This statement also promised that U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs, and Border Protections will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.
It has been reported that undocumented individuals are falling through the cracks and are not able to get the vaccine (as seen in this TIME article). About 78% work in essential jobs, which were under threat throughout the last year with the pandemic (UCLA North American Integration and Development Center). Economically, they are struggling as they were excluded from the recent $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus package, whilst still struggling to find employment and are not eligible for other federal aid such as housing assistance. There still looms the distrust of the government and law enforcement.
The migrant farmworkers in Connecticut have temporary visas for seasonal work throughout the harvesting season and return to their country at the end of harvesting. They are critical members of society and essential workers. They are responsible for the arduous and physically demanding tasks of harvesting and processing our local food supply. Through their efforts, we have produce and goods at the grocery store at reasonable prices. These individuals are a crucial part of the critical food supply line and if that supply line is disrupted, then there will be downstream consequences for all of us. As we all learned at the start of the pandemic – supply chains are a crucial part of our everyday lives.
If our farmworkers become sick with COVID-19, then there will be a lack of workers, which will lead to an upstream effect in an increase in the price of produce or decreased supply. We also have an obligation to take care of our “essential workers” as everyone exalted throughout the past year with signs and social media posts by ensuring they have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
One method to increase equity and access to the migrant farmworkers is to place a vaccination site at the farms in coordination with the owners of the farm. This will provide ample access and remove any language, transportation, or legal barriers that may exist. The Department of Public Health, along with local health centers should work with local farms to set up “pop-up” vaccine distribution sites during the spring, summer, and fall harvesting seasons. We can work together to ensure these important members of our community have equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Moe Uddin is a medical student from Milford.