Washington tree fruit industry groups joined a coalition of agricultural organizations in asking Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to place more farmworkers earlier in line for a COVID-19 vaccine in preparation for the 2021 production season.

The 16 groups, including the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, the Washington Growers League and the Washington Blueberry Commission, sent a letter to Inslee on Jan. 14 asking him to reconsider the state’s vaccine distribution priorities.

Pharmaceutical companies are producing COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but supplies are still limited. States have been asked to prioritize their own residents.

Under Washington’s plan, farmworkers who live and work in congregate settings, such as a packing house, fall under Phase 1, Tier B. However, those 50 and older are in a subset within that tier that gives them an estimated time slot in February. Their younger peers wouldn’t get the vaccine until April, after the fruit season begins to ramp up.

The agricultural groups’ letter asks Inslee to place all farmworkers in an early priority, regardless of their age.

The groups also suggest convening a work group of employers, housing providers, health providers and worker advocates to draft a logistical plan to vaccinate the farmworkers and launch a communication campaign to allay workers’ concerns about the vaccine.

“We believe that these difficulties can be overcome and we can safeguard the health of this essential and yet vulnerable population if we work together now,” the letter said.

Ross Courtney