Despite the windy Saturday morning, farmworkers waited outside the El Paso County Courthouse entrance to receive their first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
El Paso-area farmworkers have not been prioritized to receive immunizations by either state or local governments in Texas and El Paso. After El Paso Matters reported on the difficulty that farmworkers faced in getting vaccinated, community leaders and others reached out to Carlos Marentes, executive director of the Border Agricultural Workers Center.
“After the news came out, a lot of people were calling us, asking how they could help and how critical it was to vaccinate our farmworkers. But they never told us when we could actually vaccinate our people. Just promises,” Marentes said.
After calls and emails, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego spoke with Marentes on Thursday and told him that the county could vaccinate 80 farmworkers on Saturday.
“I am glad that finally they took us (farmworkers) into account. We are always the last ones, but we are essential; we are the ones who feed the community,” said Antonio Luevanos, 54, a farmworker from Torreon, Mexico.
When the pandemic hit, Luevanos stopped working for seven months. He was afraid of contracting COVID-19. But in November, he went back to the pecan orchard in Anthony, New Mexico, where he was worked for four years. Luevano said he felt relieved to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine through the Border Agricultural Workers Center.
Rosemary Rojas, board chair of the Border Agricultural Workers Project, said El Paso area farmworkers are thankful to get vaccinated, but there is more work to do.
“Why doesn’t the city go to the farms? Farmworkers have a very different life than everyone else. They cannot take a day off; they have to either get the vaccine or eat that day. This is the reality of our workers,” Rojas said.
Rojas and Marentes continue working to immunize farmworkers. They said about 300 more El Paso-area farmworkers still need to be vaccinated.
Samaniego says that the county is working on a plan to immunize farmworkers and their families. He said that includes bringing vaccines to them to the farms.
“Maybe go to the actual farm areas, and then they could come out during lunch or something or if It’s better for them on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday, so we’ll try our best to accommodate,” Samaniego said.
In March, 63 farmworkers received the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine. According to Marentes, it is more convenient for farmworkers to get it done in one day. Use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was suspended after a small number of people developed blood clots after receiving the vaccine, so the farmworkers on Saturday received the Moderna vaccine. They will need to return to the courthouse in the next four weeks to receive a second dose.
“I was afraid when I saw that farmworkers were getting the other vaccine (Johnson & Johnson), but when a volunteer called me and said it was the Moderna one, I decided to come and get it,” said farmworker Soledad Montes, 62.
She contracted COVID-19 in November 2020. Montes was worried about her health, and despite taking precautions, she infected her daughter. She said she hasn’t returned to the fields since getting sick but plans to do so in June, when the onion season begins and she will be fully vaccinated.
Samaniego emphasized that farmworkers or any other person worried about getting vaccinated because of their immigration status should feel comfortable going to any vaccine site in El Paso County.
Cover photo: Maria Badillo, 68, receives a COVID-19 vaccination at the El Paso County Courthouse on Saturday. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)