PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The pause of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is causing a disruption in vaccinating immigrant farmworkers and other hard-to-reach populations. Local leaders said the one-dose vaccine is preferred for migrant agricultural workers because their jobs are seasonal and may move to other states for other harvest opportunities. The suspension of the is also impacting clinics like the Caridad Center in Boynton Beach who help these communities.
Among those worried is Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinley, who has fought to get access to the vaccine to the underserved people in the county and immigrant farmworkers. She said there is a three to four-week window to get as many farmworkers vaccinated as the clock is ticking.
"The concern with us not being able to vaccinate them before they leave is we're pushing the problem into another state. Props to the State and Jared Moskowitz. They've done a good job in trying to roll this vaccine out. I don't know you have that same success in other states," said McKinley. "So, my concern is, they go to another state, and you have to make that same plea to the governor and the administration of those states; these workers are essential. By the time that happens, maybe they go on yet to another state, to another harvest. We just keep pushing the problem away."
Jezabel Maisonet is the clinic director at the Caridad Center in Boynton Beach. The clinic was planning to offer the one-time vaccine to migrant farmworkers. But had to change it after the suspension was announced last week.
“I have patients that say in three weeks, I’m leaving. Now what do I need to do for my second dose," said Maisonet. “Can other states work together. Can you give the same opportunity if they are bringing the vaccine card and can you give them the second shot to those people.”
McKinlay says they were going to the farmworkers housing complexes and setting up mobile clinics as soon as the age eligibility lowered.
"The other challenge, we had a lot of hesitancy among the population. We saw the first one that we did on Easter morning; we saw about 170 workers come out and get the vaccine. We had about 140 that were hesitant. After about 48/72 hours when those 140 workers saw that their friends were OK, you know they started to raise their hand, and we want the vaccine," said McKinley. "So, we were making arrangements to vaccinate the rest of that population. But we saw people willing to get it . We saw people who were hesitant. Then when they saw those who got it but were OK, they were willing to get it. That's what we want and missing out on that opportunity now.”
The Caridad Center plans to have a vaccine clinic for agricultural workers next week Tuesday and a mobile vaccine clinic on May eighth.