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Vaccinations for California Vineyard and Wine Production Employees Varies by County

Some counties are nearly finished while others, like Napa, have a ways to go. 
by Jess Lander
March 02, 2021


California’s essential agriculture workers, which have been among the most vulnerable throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, are included in Phase 1B of vaccinations, along with individuals aged 65 and older, education and childcare workers, and those in emergency services. 

But the process for getting vaccinated — and the speed at which they get vaccinated — varies from county to county and depends greatly on supply. So while some vineyard and winery production employees are protected at long last, many others are waiting in the wings, with no clear timeline in sight. 

In Mendocino County, for example, all ag workers have reportedly been given the opportunity to get vaccinated and as of last week, Sonoma County had successfully vaccinated or scheduled vaccination appointments for 70 percent of the estimated 12,500 agriculture and production workers in the county. This effort is the result of a major collaboration between the Sonoma County Winegrowers, Sonoma County Vintners, Sonoma County Farm Bureau, and local health centers. 

For the Sonoma County Vintners’ part, executive director Michael Haney said they sent out a short survey to all of their members to find out how many essential workers each winery had. The results were recorded in a spreadsheet and then in working with local health providers, they began scheduling the wineries’ employees in groups at clinics based on vaccine availability. The Grapegrowers and Farm Bureau did the same.

“Everyone concentrated on their strengths and it has worked out fantastic,” said Haney. “Let your vintners work with the vintners, growers with growers—these are the organizations that have those direct ties with those groups and they have the ability to very quickly and very effectively coordinate those clinics. Using the organizations within your county that have those direct contact with the groups you’re trying to get vaccinated is key.”

While Sonoma County is in Phase 1B, Napa County, plagued by what Ryan Gregory, Napa County Supervisor, District 2 called “a scarcity” of doses, is still in Phase 1A (as of February 28, Sonoma County had administered 147,000 doses compared to Napa’s 47,000). This means that the priority for vaccinations thus far has been based on age, but as of this week, Gregory said the state has laid out a new methodology that directs 20 percent of weekly doses to those in agriculture, food, and emergency services.

“It’s a huge group and a very diverse group, so it will take a while to get through it,” he warns, adding that “things are always changing and don’t remain static for too long.”

Rex Stults, Vice President of Industry Relations for the Napa Valley Vintners called the effort to get ag workers vaccinated in Napa County “a little haphazard” stating, “It doesn’t always seem like the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.” 

But the St. Helena Hospital Foundation said they’re making a concerted effort to focus on the ag community, utilizing much of their multi-county entity doses (given to health systems, like Adventist Health, with hospitals in three or more counties) to do so. According to Foundation President and Adventist Health St. Helena CEO Glen Newhart, they are at about a 50/50 split between vaccinating seniors and ag workers. He estimates that about half of the 10,000 doses they’ve administered have gone to ag workers and that 30 percent of those have been Latino.

Last week, the Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation launched a matching grant program to further support these foundation’s efforts. The Farmworker Foundation will match all donations, dollar for dollar, up to $15,000 through March 5. 

There have also been several reports of some Napa wineries supposedly “jumping the line” by making donations to health care providers. Whether or not that’s true, Kaitlyn Tinder, VP of Human Resources at Bundschu Co. in Sonoma, heard the rumors in Napa and said it “set a little fire” in her to take matters into her own hands.

After a lot of research, emails, and phone calls, Tinder got on the email list for the Sonoma Valley Hospital to find out when they had appointments available. As soon as that email came through, she alerted the team and 10 managed to get appointments scheduled before they filled up. A few weeks later, another 15 got vaccinated through an opportunity with the Sonoma Valley Growers. That time, she made the appointments for her employees herself, for many of them are not well-versed in using computers. 

“I proactively went out there and found different opportunities that our team could get the vaccine. It was a mixture of networking and persistence,” said Tinder. “I went through dozens of websites and emails, I went down all those rabbit holes to find out the best resources. It was really just about doing the research, getting on the lists, and then acting quickly as soon as I got that email.”

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