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As planting season nears, farm workers want vaccines now

Danielle Volles
A member of the milking crew at Volles' dairy farm.

Farm workers in New York state are one of the populations waiting for the state to deem them eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. There’s growing concern that COVID could impact the food supply if those workers don’t get a shot.

Danielle Volles and her family own a dairy farm with 3,500 cows in southern Onondaga County. She is disappointed her employees and others who work in agriculture, can’t get shots yet.

"We were really thinking we were going to be in this rollout, and to not be in the rollout is kind of a slap in the face," Volles said.

The situation becomes more dire, she said, with central New York’s short growing season coming up. Hundreds of migrant workers have already started coming to the region for seasonal farm jobs. Volles said as they work in fields, barns and greenhouses, there is a chance of spreading the coronavirus, in a business that can’t shut down for things like quarantines. She believes it’s almost too late.

"Two months ago was the time,” Volles said. “Now, this is very challenging.”

She’s reached out to local lawmakers asking for help. She said she could get 150 dairy workers within a ten-mile radius alone, for a vaccine clinic in her neck of the woods. But they need the Cuomo administration to okay it. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said he’s heard the concern, and wants the state to include farm workers on the vaccine eligibility list.

"I’ve asked the state to expand that, or to give the counties ability to do it," McMahon said.

In the meantime, as the days get longer, and the time for planting comes near, Volles said the industry that provides food for much of the state is still in limbo.

"It’s disheartening to see that farming isn’t being recognized as essential,” Volles said. “I know we say we’re essential. But if we’re essential, we should have some kind of vaccination plan, right now. We can’t have a disruption in the food supply, and there’s a potential for that to happen.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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