PHARR, Texas – Of the 1,170 Rio Grande Valley residents who received their first COVID vaccine shot at Vanguard Academy on Saturday, over 400 were from farmworker families. 

La Unión del Pueblo, MHP Salud, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid made a special effort to reach out to this segment of the population.

“We are really happy to have partnered with Vanguard and Saenz Pharmacy. We have been organizing in the fields these past few months, passing out masks and PPE materials to farmworkers because they are the essential workers our nation relies on,”   said LUPE community organizer Danny Diaz. 

“So, when Vanguard reached out it made sense for us to go back to the same farm workers and sign them up, commit them to come out today and on the 24th for their second vaccine shot. We successfully reached out to about 400 workers and their families. We are very happy.”

Getting farmworkers vaccinated has been a challenge, Diaz acknowledged. For one thing, they work long hours, including weekends. In addition, some have been frightened off by misinformation on social media. And, some have been leery of going to a governmental building for fear Border Patrol are there.

“We are hearing some are still concerned about the vaccine. Some are still hard to access. Farm workers are always working. Even on a Saturday some of them cannot make it. We did a pretty intense weeklong grassroots effort to reach them,” Diaz said.

The vaccines were administered by Saenz Pharmacy staff at Vanguard’s Rembrandt Secondary School gymnasium. Diaz said he was encouraged that state Sen. Eddie Lucio was present at the start of the day. He said the Brownsville lawmaker is trying to get additional funding to have mobile vaccine sites to visit the Valley’s farms. So too is U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, Diaz said.

“Some of the farmworkers simply have not had enough information about the vaccine. They have heard all these rumors and what for me are conspiracy theories on social media,” Diaz said. 

Pressed on this, Diaz said there are videos on YouTube purporting to be from doctors and healthcare workers saying the vaccines can cause long term damage and deformities. “The videos use scientific language, they seem official. Even people I know, who should be well-informed, are asking questions.”

Ask for the fear factor, Diaz said: “We get some farmworkers who say, I am not sure I want to go there. Will there be police there? Is it an official government location?”

Diaz pointed out LUPE has been making a concerted effort to build up membership among farmworkers. To this end they have hired a community organizer who specializes in farm working families. 

“Although our roots are in the fields, we have not been organizing in the fields like the United Farm Workers did. We have made an intentional effort to go back in the fields. We have hired an organizer that is focused on farm workers. We have, in the recent decades, been organizing in the colonias, around colonia issues. It looks good, it looks like we will be diving back into organizing farmworkers.”

Diaz said the United States government should have prioritized the protection of farmworkers when COVID-19. Because it didn’t, tens of thousands have died of the virus. 

“When they first rolled out the vaccine the farmworkers should have been right up there with healthcare workers, God Bless the healthcare workers, they should be out in front, but what about those feeding the healthcare workers? We saw high rates of coronavirus among farmworkers. Many of those working in the fields died.”

Diaz said LUPE was proud to be partnering with Vanguard and Saenz Pharmacy. He also gave a shoutout to TRLA and MHP.

“Today is what a model vaccine rollout looks like. Focusing on people who have been on the front lines, who have been working the entire year. People feel safe here, they feel welcome here. This is a model way of administering the vaccine.”

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