The New York State Fairgrounds is one of the nation’s busiest COVID-19 vaccination clinics. But, so far, farmers and farm workers can’t get a shot there or anywhere else in New York.
That contrast rankles some in the agriculture industry, especially after Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the fairgrounds and opened up vaccine eligibility to others based on age and occupations.
“To not be included was frustrating,” said Danielle Volles, who owns a dairy farm in southern Onondaga County that milks about 1,550 cows a day. “I think it would have been a good opportunity for the governor to reach out to the food community. It was shame that didn’t happen.”
Agriculture workers and advocates have been arguing for weeks that they should get early protection from the vaccine. It’s becoming more urgent, they say, as the growing season begins and thousands of migrant workers head north to New York.
Already, California has put farm workers ahead of people with underlying health conditions, who’ve been getting vaccinated in New York for about a month.
“I think this is something that New York is behind in,” said Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, an associate professor of food studies and nutrition at Syracuse University. “There’s really no job that could be more essential than farm workers.”
But prioritizing workers in the vaccine line is about more than the necessity of vegetables and meat. It’s also about keeping the virus from exponentially spreading beyond farms and into surrounding communities, according to David Larsen, an environmental epidemiologist at Syracuse University.
Most jobs at farms put employees in close working and living conditions with each other. That can create a bubble or cluster of cases, such as the large outbreak last spring at Green Empire Farm in Madison County.
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