MOUNT VERNON — About 200 Skagit County farmworkers received the first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile clinic Saturday at La Venture Middle School.
The state expanded vaccine eligibility to certain high-risk critical workers, including those who work in agriculture and food processing, on March 17.
Skagit County Public Health worked with the Mount Vernon School District and many community organizations and volunteers to offer the clinic.
Elizabeth Churape-García, assistant principal at La Venture Middle School and the school district's supervisor of migrant and dual language programs, said community partners have been working for weeks on how to connect farmworkers and migrant community members with the vaccine.
While information about the vaccine is widely available, it may not be accessible to all in part due to language or cultural barriers, she said.
“It’s important for everyone to have all the information to make the best decision for them," she said.
In a Zoom webinar on March 16, community members were able to talk with district staff who work closely with Skagit Valley's migrant community. The district's migrant nurse, Isabel Zaragoza, answered questions about the vaccine. The livestream video was then shared on social media pages used by Latino community members.
Churape-García said the goal was to provide a two-way street for communication about the vaccine with a trusted source.
"We’re able to communicate with families in a way that is culturally responsive and really building the trust and confidence that right now some of our community members don't have with the government and mainstream modes of communication," she said.
At the clinic on Saturday, volunteers greeted participants and guided them to the Public Health intake process to help them feel at ease, Churape-García said.
A majority of Skagit County's farmworkers are Latino and many are indigenous Mexicans. Many work in industries that were deemed essential during the pandemic and are unable to work from home, putting them and their families at higher risk for the virus.
“We show a very high impact to our farmworker community and Latinx community from COVID-19," said Polly Dubbel, communicable disease manager with Skagit County Public Health.
She said as Skagit County continues to reopen, it is important to ensure those who work and live in high-risk settings have equitable vaccine access.
Dubbel said Public Health has worked with other local organizations, such as Sea Mar Community Health Centers and the Catholic Community Services Farmworker Center, to get farmworkers vaccinated.
Promotoras with Community 2 Community Development, who provide health education to farmworkers in Skagit County, assisted with the clinic on Saturday.
Promotora Coordinator Arely Dominguez said the Bellingham-based organization advocated for farmworkers to be included in the state's first phase of vaccinations.
However, even after farmworkers became eligible, some found it difficult to register for an appointment online due to lack of familiarity with technology, she said. In addition, many indigenous farmworkers speak neither English nor Spanish, only their native languages.
"That's why we started to partner with the Mount Vernon School District and (Skagit County Public Health) to create an alternative that is more equitable and accessible for our migrant, undocumented and farmworker community," Dominguez said.
Lucy Madrigal, also a Promotora coordinator, said one-on-one conversations went a long way in building confidence in the vaccine, and that promotoras modeled getting the vaccine themselves.
"There are some people that do hesitate, but once you start talking to them and letting them know about the vaccine, they do trust us, and they will tell us to sign them up," she said.
Victor Gonzalez with Children of the Valley, a Mount Vernon nonprofit that provides academic and personal support to local children, also helped with the clinic.
Gonzalez said as an undocumented person, he understands the challenges fellow immigrants face in navigating situations like signing up for a vaccine.
"I think for me it's just equity, and being equitable toward our community," he said.
Churape-García said groups exceeded their goal to vaccinate 200 on Saturday and had a waiting list.
Skagit County Public Health is partnering with Community to Community and North Sound Accountable Communities to offer 150 additional vaccinations, by appointment only, for agricultural workers from 4 to 7 p.m. on April 1 and 8 at the Skagit County Fairgrounds.
For questions on COVID-19 vaccines, call Skagit County Public Health's vaccine hotline at 360-416-1500 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.