PLANT CITY — Luis Angel Rodriguez Roque was a little bit nervous as he waited for his turn to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The 23-year-old farmworker, born in Mexico, had his reasons. His aunt told him that it was better to seek natural remedies and drink plenty of lemon juice with sodium bicarbonate every morning to strengthen the immune system and “to kill the virus.”
Rodriguez changed his mind when a good friend told him that he had been vaccinated a month ago and nothing had happened to him.
“I don’t want to have problems with my health because I’m here to work and save money,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t want to be in a hospital, I want to be in the fields.”
Dozens of farmworkers and their families were vaccinated Friday for the first time against COVID-19 as part of a community outreach effort encouraged by local activists and organizations that defend the rights of those most in need.
The one-day event at the Sadye Gibbs Martin Community Center was a joint effort to help agricultural communities and to debunk some myths that have made vaccination among immigrant communities and farmworkers slower than other groups. The site was open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offered vaccines to more than 100 people.
One of them was Jorge Campos, 28, the eldest of three brothers who came to the United States to work in the fields for nine months. Campos, born in Michoacán, was the first in his family to get his Moderna vaccine.
“I heard a lot about vaccines in Mexico and here in the United States, but the most important thing is that vaccines don’t kill you. Virus does it,” said Campos, 28, a husband and father of four children.
Campos said the vaccination process is very slow in his native Michoacán.
“I arrived a week ago and I already have my vaccine. It doesn’t hurt and I’ve been told that it’s very safe,” Campos said. “I’m happy, of course.”
Alfredo Rojas said he hoped his family and friends in Mexico who work in the fields would be able to get vaccinated soon. Rojas, 29, waited less than 10 minutes to be vaccinated
“I am going to advise all of them to do so. It’s not worth the risk, " Rojas said.
More than 762,000 people working in fields and groves have fallen ill with COVID, according to a study by Microsoft and Purdue University. The four hardest–hit states are Texas with 54,224, California with 46,662, Missouri with 24,740 and Florida with 16,981.
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Florida groups that advocate for Hispanic immigrants have sent letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis asked him to declare farmworkers a vaccine priority group, regardless of their immigration status.
But the vaccination effort Friday was independent of that initiative and was led by Colectivo Arbol, a nonprofit that works and helps exclusively farmworkers and their families.
Laudi Campos, the state director of the Hispanic Federation, one of the groups that supported the initiative in Plant City, said the most important thing now is to persuade more people to be vaccinated.
“We want to raise awareness because we are here to help families and give them all the information they need,” Campos said. “And these kinds of campaigns are what really make a difference in our community.”
Marucci Guzman, of the Latino Leadership and Clinica Mi Salud, said a mass event to secure doses for essential workers is one more way to remove barriers to the COVID-19 vaccine and defeat the new Delta variant.
“We have a responsibility to our community and all of these services only confirm the benefits of being vaccinated,” said Guzman.