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Where Migrant Farmworkers’ Vaccination Rates Stand In Michigan Six Months After Eligibility

Vaccine photo
Pan American Health Organization PAHO
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Flickr Creative Commons

After Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use last year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state health department officials rolled out a vaccine prioritization schedule.

It's been six months since migrant farm workers have been eligible for the vaccine.

Dale Flores Freeman is the migrant affairs director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

WKAR's Megan Schellong spoke with Freeman about where current vaccination rates stand among these workers.

Interview Highlights

On Where Current Vaccination Rates Among Migrant Farmworkers Stand

Vaccination rates are hard to come by because we don't have an actual census of farm workers to know exactly what that number is. We have various ways of tracking them, primarily with the people that we partner with. But people can get vaccinations all sorts of ways through their local health departments, through you know, their personal doctor as well as, you know, they've gotten them in other states too, before they get to Michigan. So that makes the rates hard to determine.

On The Logistical Challenges Of Vaccinating Migrant Workers

Migrant farmworkers live in very rural areas, often don't have transportation. Language is a barrier, so they're not really tied into the kind of information and news gathering that's out there that everyone else is exposed to. They also, for migrant farmworkers, they're coming from other places and they don't really know the area or, you know, have much connection to it. And yet we need to get that information out. So, those are barriers that we have to surmount in order to get them vaccinated.

On The Delta Variant's Impact On Vaccinating Migrant Workers

Well, it's one of those situations where it has raised awareness of COVID’s continuing threat, and has led more workers to get vaccinated. More recently, there was a period of time in the summer when vaccinations were down quite a bit. And this has helped to spur some folks to get vaccinated.

On The State Health Department's Efforts To Reach Migrant Workers

We're partnering with Michigan primary care and the local clinics, and they actually provide the vaccine, but what we do is our staff does outreach to these migrant camps and other places where they know that farmworkers are living or located, and provide information about the virus. They provide information about the vaccine, answer questions that they might have. Sometimes they encounter wild sorts of misinformation that they don't know. And our workers have the background to be able to explore some of these issues, resolve some of their fears, and identify upcoming events where they can be vaccinated.

Interview Transcript

Schellong: You're listening to Morning Edition on WKAR.

When Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use last year, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and state health department officials created a schedule prioritizing front-line healthcare workers, long-term care employees and people over age 75.

Migrant farm workers were sixth in line after them, in phase 1B.

It’s now been six months since they were eligible.

Joining me now is Dale Flores Freeman.

He’s the Migrant Affairs Director at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Dale, thanks for being here.

Freeman: Thank you, Megan.

Schellong: So to start off, where do the vaccine vaccination rates currently stand along these migrant workers?

Freeman: Yeah, so vaccination rates are hard to come by because we don't have an actual census of farm workers to know exactly what that number is. We have various ways of tracking them, primarily with the people that we partner with.

But people can get vaccinations all sorts of ways through their local health departments, through you know, their personal doctor as well as, you know, they've gotten them in other states too, before they get to Michigan. So that makes the rates hard to determine.

Schellong: Do you have a ballpark of how many of these workers there are in the state right now?

Freeman: Yeah, so the most recent count that we have is from a while ago. But at this point of the year, we're typically looking at about 60,000 workers and another 30,000 dependents.

Schellong: So do we know how many of these 60,000 workers plus their 30,000 dependents have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine?

Freeman: No, we don't.

We know that again, those other avenues are not counted, particularly. We have a partnership with Michigan Primary Care Association, and the local federally qualified health centers to provide vaccines to especially migrant farmworkers.

And we have records showing that 5,400 of them have been vaccinated through those efforts.

Schellong: How has the delta variant of COVID-19 impacted the migrant community at this point?

Freeman: Well, it's one of those situations where it has raised awareness of COVID’s continuing threat, and has led more workers to get vaccinated.

More recently, there was a period of time in the summer when vaccinations were down quite a bit. And this has helped to spur some folks to get vaccinated.

Schellong: What would you say are some of the logistical challenges of getting the vaccines to migrant workers and inoculating them?

Freeman: It is a challenge because migrant farmworkers live in very rural areas, often don't have transportation.

Language is a barrier, so they're not really tied into the kind of information and news gathering that's out there that everyone else is exposed to.

They also, for migrant farmworkers, they're coming from other places and they don't really know the area or, you know, have much connection to it. And yet we need to get that information out. So, those are barriers that we have to surmount in order to get them vaccinated.

Schellong: So in order to get this information out to them, what are some of the state health department’s efforts to inform migrant workers that they can get a vaccine?

Freeman: So, again, we're partnering with Michigan primary care and the local clinics, and they actually provide the vaccine, but what we do is our staff does outreach to these migrant camps and other places where they know that farmworkers are living or located, and provide information about the virus.

They provide information about the vaccine, answer questions that they might have. Sometimes they encounter wild sorts of misinformation that they don't know. And our workers have the background to be able to explore some of these issues, resolve some of their fears, and identify upcoming events where they can be vaccinated.

And so, then at the events, we partner with those local clinics to get folks registered for vaccine and do translation where necessary.

Schellong: Dale Flores Freeman is the migrant Affairs Director at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Dale, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

Freeman: Thank you, appreciate it.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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