Local foreign agriculture workers are getting their COVID-19 shots.
Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Outreach Workers from the Vernon and District Immigrant and Community Services Society (VDICSS) teamed up with the COVID-19 Vaccine Immunization squad from the Vernon Health Centre Clinical Operations, IH North Okanagan, to host a number of pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics.
The Seasonal Agricultural Program was introduced to B.C. in 2004 and more than 7,000 workers arrive in the province on an annual basis. They come to work and generate a different type of income in Canada than they can earn at home. Workers come for up to eight months and many of them return to Canada year-after-year.
Many agricultural workers from Mexico and the Caribbean have been in the area since early January adhering to the strict travel guidelines, living in close quarters, and working outdoors. The outreach workers from VDICSS were aware that this vulnerable population would face tremendous challenges booking vaccination appointments, especially due to language barriers. Not only would they need translation by phone, but they would also require assistance getting to and during the vaccine appointment.
“We were happy to work with Interior Health and coordinate three pop-up clinics for the workers,” said Daniel Vallejo, VDICSS outreach worker. “Having a special day and time where vaccines were offered for the first and second shot had a tremendous impact on all of them.”
“Many workers were aware and afraid of COVID outbreaks happening on the farms and orchards they are working on because of what happened last year on many farms across Canada,” said Perla Villegas, VDICSS outreach worker. “The workers were all the more anxious to receive the vaccine. For them, being vaccinated creates a safe environment.”
One worker said, “I feel that even when we live and work altogether, my life is not at any risk. I feel I can walk, work, talk, and even breath in a safe manner. I feel I have my life back again.”
Even for vaccine-hesitant farm workers, at the end of the day, they learned from other workers that this is the best way to stay safe.
“We are very grateful and fortunate to be able to deliver a TFW-focused outreach program within the North Okanagan,” said Philipp Gruner, VDICSS CEO. “We started this program in September and it has been a resounding success by supporting both workers and employers. We are hopeful to continue this program in the years to come.”
Through the three pop-up clinics held in May and June, more than 160 agricultural workers were vaccinated with first and second doses.