Ninety-five percent of the area’s vineyard and wine production workers have been vaccinated

By Katherine Minkiewicz, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, March 22, 2021

vaccination clinic for farmworkers

Vineyard and wine production workers get vaccinated at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Winegrowers)

Sonoma County’s agriculture, wine and health communities have now vaccinated over 95% of the county’s essential vineyard and wine production workers, according to a press release published by the Sonoma County Winegrowers.

According to the press release, nearly 8,000 of the area’s vineyard and wine production workers have been vaccinated through a joint effort between the Sonoma County Winegrowers, the Sonoma County Vintners, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and local community health centers.

As part of this endeavor, each agricultural group was assigned a specific responsibility.

The Winegrowers worked with local winegrape farmers, the Vintners worked with local wineries and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau worked with non-wine related farmers and agricultural processors.

“We worked with other commodities getting them scheduled for their vaccination. We are still working on all of the other ag crop workers and also cannabis and getting those workers vaccinated,” said Tawny Tesconi, the executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

In December 2020 the Farm Bureau started a vaccination database so that they could be organized and ready when it came time to vaccinate farm workers.

“This allowed us to prioritize,” Tesconi said.

For instance, they could prioritize farm workers who live in dormitory-style housing, workers who are inside milking cows every day, dairy workers who live in shared housing and those in the meat industry.

“We’ve got a smaller list of vegetable and cannabis growers. We’ve worked really hard to get them vaccinated but we still have a long way to go … With the other crops we’re only at 26% as we can tell,” Tesconi said of vaccinating non-wine related farmers.

Tesconi called the agriculture and wine worker vaccination effort a lofty project, however, she said the collaborative effort with Sonoma County Winegrowers and the Sonoma County Vintners has made the process a bit smoother.

“We’ve had a wonderful collaborative relationship with these organizations,” she said.

Sonoma County Winegrowers President Karissa Kruse said the vaccination effort has been a strong coordination effort between all entities involved.

“Because of the outstanding coordination and trust amongst all the organizing partners, we exceeded our timelines in getting our neighbors vaccinated. We’ve shared one goal from the beginning — ensure that all of our vineyard and production workers got vaccinated as soon as possible,” Kruse said in a statement. “This model of bringing health care providers together with local businesses, farms and wineries has definitely worked and I am excited to explore how we can use it moving forward to proactively deliver health care to all our local communities.”

Each agriculture partner also contributed staff and translators and donated other needed resources such as iPads needed for coordinating the logistics of the vaccine program.

In addition to organizing the vaccine rollout for essential agriculture workers, the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation also donated funding to each of the healthcare community organizations involved to help cover day-to-day expenses related to the program.

Local health centers that have helped with the ongoing effort include the West County Health Center, the Sonoma Valley Health Center, the Alliance Medical Center, Alexander Valley Health Care and the Sonoma County Medical Association.

The health centers worked to set up the various clinics.

For instance, Alliance Medical Center — which is a federally-qualified health center that serves low-income families in Healdsburg, Geyserville and Windsor — ran a clinic for farm and vineyard workers at the Huerta Gym in Windsor.

As of Feb. 28, Alliance had vaccinated 4,254 people. Sixty-five percent of that figure were farm workers.

While the effort is winding down as they reach 100% of area wine and vineyard workers vaccinated, the program remains accessible for all vineyard and wine production workers who live or work in Sonoma County.

“The effort in Sonoma County by the agriculture and health communities to organize and vaccinate essential ag and production workers is a great model,” Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said in statement. “The results of this vaccine campaign are most impressive, and it personifies Sonoma County and its agricultural heritage.”

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com