ALBANY — The New York Farm Bureau is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration to add farmworkers to the current eligibility groups for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The bureau, which advocates on behalf of more than 30,000 farms across the state, is making the case that as essential workers involved in the food supply chain, farmworkers deserve the health protection that comes with getting vaccinated.

The issue has surfaced in several states in recent weeks.

California made farmworkers eligible for the COVID-19 shots last month. But news reports indicate the process has been slowed there after the state let counties decide whether they should first use their doses for people age 65 and older.

"We're going to have more farmworkers arriving in New York in the spring and we want to make sure they are protected as well as those workers who are already here," said Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau.

The nonprofit organization has been rallying support for its push via its social media platforms. Its web site features a statement that individuals can forward to the state Department of Health backing the call for farmworker eligibility.

"Vaccination needs are becoming even more critical as we are rapidly approaching the season when thousands of workers will be traveling to farms to work under H2A visas," the letter states.

"We have had numerous conversations with the Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Department of Health and the governor's office," said Ammerman. There has been no indication that any decision on the request is imminent.

Contacted by CNHI, Erin Silk, spokeswoman for the Health Department said: "Our singular goal is to get as many eligible New Yorkers vaccinated as quickly as possible." New Yorkers currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine are listed on our website."

She acknowledged vaccine supply constraints are an issue.

"In New York State, only a subset of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) 1b population is currently eligible to be vaccinated due to the lack of adequate vaccine supply from the federal government to make the entire 1b population eligible," Silk said.

The so-called 1b groups made eligible in the early rounds of the vaccine rollout in New York include teachers, first responders, persons 65 years and older, corrections officers, college instructors, grocery store workers, transit workers and people staying at homeless shelters.

Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy group, is also urging states to make farmworkers' vaccinations a priority.

"Due to their working and living conditions, farmworkers are at substantially high risk of COVID exposure," the group said in a statement. "In the fields, orchards, dairy farms, and produce packing houses, farmworkers must often work close to each other with limited access to protective equipment or sanitation supplies."

Ammerman said the Farm Bureau is aware the state's supply of vaccination doses from the federal government is inadequate to meet the existing demand from groups that have been made eligible for the shots.

The federal government has recommended that farmworkers be included as a priority group for the shots.

An estimate 7 million New Yorkers have been made eligible by the state for the shots.

According to state date updated Friday, New York's distribution sites have received 2,065,595 doses. Nearly 1.9 million first doses have been administered.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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