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Farmworkers deemed essential fear they’re not a top priority for a COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 10:35 AM, Jan 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-09 12:35:53-05

YUMA, AZ — In Arizona, farmworkers are categorized as essential during the pandemic and as such, they should receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the next vaccination stage.

But the next group under Phase 1B, also includes people in the education, transportation, and law enforcement sectors.

Where do farm workers fall on the priority list?

“I feel they’ve forgotten us because they think we’re not essential, but in reality, we’re very important,” said Nigtejac Laguna, a farmworker in Yuma County.

“I think the government is giving priority to others like police for example, and okay that’s fine, but don’t forget about us,” said Ascension Laguna, a farmworker in Yuma County.

Nigtejac and Ascension Laguna have been harvesting and packing lettuce in Yuma for almost 40 years.

They migrated to Arizona in 1984 and settled to raise their children in San Luis Arizona, an area with a large Latino and migrant population that’s been disproportionately affected during the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of people getting sick,” expressed Ascension.

Yuma County has been a Coronavirus hot spot since the beginning of the pandemic.

Photo: John Stone

“A lot of people go to work sick because bills don’t stop and that’s how it spreads to all of us,” said Nigtejac.

As risky as their job is during the pandemic, they say they knew they couldn't stop working. America depended on them to harvest our food.

“Sometimes we work from 12 to 18 hours daily,” said Ascension.

Agriculture workers say keeping them safe secures our food supply, so they should be near the top of the list for vaccine distribution.

“It’s hard to put individual lives on the line and classify them by importance,” said Arizona State representative, Cesar Chavez.

Chavez says we need to look at it from a perspective of who’s exposing themselves more than others.

“For example, if I'm an office worker and can stay at home and have the ability to do so, maybe I shouldn’t be at the top of the list from a nurse, doctor, a police officer, firefighter, or someone who works for the agricultural industry.”

According to the Yuma County Public Health website, they are planning to start vaccination for the next group on Monday, Jan. 11.

Their website says it will include those over 75 years of age, active law enforcement, teachers and school support staff. However, it doesn’t specify farmworkers.

”It is only essential that we provide these individuals with the resources necessary, in this case, the vaccination so they can be safe,” expressed Chavez.

ABC15 reached out to the Yuma County Health Department asking in what priority number for vaccine distribution would farmworkers be under Phase 1B. We have yet to receive a response.