Vaccinating migrant farm workers when they land at the airport was touted in some circles as a way to head off COVID-19 outbreaks on Norfolk County farms.
In practice, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has found workers are more likely to agree to be vaccinated once they’ve had the chance to think about it.
“We find that we’re able to provide great education in their native languages here, so we have had a really great uptake,” said Norfolk EMS chief and vaccine task force lead Sarah Page.
Page said 80 to 85 per cent of workers offered the vaccine in Norfolk choose to be vaccinated, whereas only about half opt to get the shot upon arrival from Mexico or the Caribbean.
“They’re put on a plane, they come here, they’re tired, and they’re kind of rushed through the process,” Page said.
“When they come (to Norfolk), we’re providing a more comfortable atmosphere and more education, and being very honest and straightforward about what the vaccine does and how it protects (them).”
Some workers who decline the vaccine at the airport end up changing their minds once they have time to consider the options and talk with fellow workers who are vaccinated.
“We very much have seen that,” Page said, adding area farmers have been “instrumental” in disseminating information about vaccines to their workforce in English and Spanish, and arranging for transportation to vaccine clinics.
The health unit held a dedicated clinic in Delhi on Monday where more than 650 farm workers were scheduled to receive their second dose of Moderna.
Prior to the clinic, Page said 2,440 of the 3,296 migrant farm workers now in Haldimand-Norfolk — or 74 per cent — have received at least one shot, with 1,023 workers fully vaccinated.
Some workers are arriving now for the cherry harvest, with more expected throughout the summer and fall to pick blueberries, apples and other crops.
The health unit considers farm workers a priority population because they are essential workers who share kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces inside bunkhouses.
According to the health unit, two farms in Norfolk currently have COVID-19 cases among their workforce. Fausto Ramirez Plazas of Mexico, who returned to Canada this spring to work at Procyk Farm in Wilsonville, died of COVID-19 on May 20 after testing positive while in quarantine.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator