Farm workers vaccinated during pop-up at Raphael

A van parked along a North Fork farm field or at one of the area’s winery tasting rooms may seem unlikely places to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but both are part of a new effort to reach farm workers throughout the region.

The tasting room at Raphael Winery in Peconic was transformed into a pop-up vaccination clinic Wednesday, where over 500 first Moderna doses are expected to be distributed over two days.

“We want to vaccinate as many people as we can,” said Carlos Ortiz, vice president of operations for Sun River Health, which operates Suffolk County’s health clinics.

The health provider teamed up with the Long Island Farm Bureau and Cornell Cooperative Extension to ensure farm workers have access to the vaccine as part of a targeted effort to vaccinate farmworkers and employees of food production facilities against COVID-19 statewide.

Long Island Farm Bureau director Rob Carpenter visited the pop-up Wednesday morning and said he was pleased and excited to provide vaccine access to the local agricultural community.

“Everybody on the farm—the farmer, the truck drivers and distributors, the field workers—everybody is so important for what we do for the residents of New York,” Mr. Carpenter said.

“I’m particularly excited to be able to help those that may not have had easy access right away to any of the local sites that have been set up,” he said, describing the frustrating and sometimes challenging process of securing COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

Mark Santiago, Julia Petrocelli-Vergari and Carlos Ortiz during Wednesday’s vaccination pop-up at Raphael Winery in Peconic. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Mr. Ortiz said a similar pop-up is planned on the South Fork next week, where another 500 doses will be administered. The health care provider will also utilize a fleet of mobile clinics and vans to bring vaccines directly to farms, shelters and other areas in the community.

To date, Mr. Oritz said Sun River Health has vaccinated 30,000 patients in Suffolk County.

“We’re reaching our patients through phone calls and letters and our community engagement team is going to churches, farms and supermarkets,” he said, explaining efforts to reach migrant farm workers and members of the Latino community, who may be fearful of making appointments or simply worried about losing a day’s wages.

“A lot of [the workers] are immigrants. They’re afraid they’ll be asked for insurance or asked about their status. We’re not asking that. We want them to feel comfortable,” Mr. Ortiz said.

Julia Petrocelli-Vergari, who coordinates special events at Raphael, said seven of their vineyard workers were among those to be vaccinated Wednesday morning.

“Some were on the fence,” she said. “I told them, ‘It’s totally your decision.’ They wanted to make sure it was safe and I could see in their eyes, they’re happy,” Ms. Vergari said.

The vaccination space at Raphael. (Credit: Tara Smith)

She said the winery was pleased to offer up its space. “[Mr. Carpenter] reached out and I said, ‘To get shots in arms? I’d be honored.”

Mr. Carpenter wasn’t able to estimate how many local farms participated in the pop-up vaccination site but said outreach was key.

“The response from farmers was tremendous,” he said. “The effort they put in, talking to workers and giving them the opportunity to do this was heartwarming to see.”

He hopes it can lead to a happy and healthy season ahead.

“It’s going to give peace of mind,” he said. “They won’t have to necessarily worry as much as they did last year.”