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Caridad Center CEO Calling On Governor To Prioritize Vaccines For Migrant Farmworkers

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Screenshot of Laura Kallus in her office at the Cardidad Center

Elected officials and advocates in Palm Beach County say the state should prioritize vaccines for the farmworker community. They say Gov. Ron DeSantis should use free clinics across the state to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to these vulnerable workers.

Laura Kallus is CEO of the Caridad Center in Boynton Beach. It’s a free medical clinic that treats migrant farmworkers.

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Kallus says migrant farmworkers often leave their families to travel north to follow the crops, which makes them especially vulnerable. The decision not to include them in vaccine prioritization is a "slap in the face."

"We depend on them for our most basic needs during this whole pandemic," Kallus said. "And their reward is what? Low wages. No healthcare. No insurance. No benefits. And now no vaccines?”

Agriculture is Florida’s second largest industry behind tourism. And Palm Beach County ranked first in the state for agricultural sales. In 2017, the state ranked third in the U.S for agricultural exports, totaling $4 billion.

Kallus says a lack of computers, proper documentation, and medical trust are just some of the major issues affecting access to quality care and vaccinations for migrant farmworkers.

She is calling on Gov. DeSantis to utilize the network of free and charitable clinics across the state to help with vaccinations and launch proper educational outreach programs.

“They don’t have the documentation you [DeSantis] require. They don’t have the time and the resources to sit on the internet to register for these,” Kallus said. “So use Community Health Workers. Use your free clinics who already know how to serve and reach this population. It seems like a no brainer to me.”

Kallus says the Caridad Center serves more than 5,000 farmworkers from several racial and ethnic groups. From Central Americans, Mexicans, and indigenous migrant groups to ethnic groups from the Caribbean — they're all people living "200 percent or below the federal poverty level," who live in Palm Beach County, and "have no [health] insurance."

The county’s test positivity rate hovers around 6%. Kallus says the farmworker and day labor community hovers around 14%.

Kallus says the center has been able to vaccinate their eligible volunteer doctors through the county's health department, but there are flexibility issues surrounding documentation for migrants to get the vaccines.

The center continues to do COVID-19 case management for patients who’ve tested positive for the virus. Kallus says she'd like to see more uniformity in the vaccine distribution process from the state, because local efforts need more support.

"We partnered with faith-based initiatives to try to get vaccines at Caridad Center and to utilize all of the churches that we partner with to do that," Kallus said. "But we're waiting to see what kind of restrictions they're [the state] going to put on us in terms of who we get to vaccinate."