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The push for farmworkers to get COVID-19 vaccinations in California

One Republican leader calls undocumented workers in line for shots a "slap in the face" to Americans still waiting

LINDEN, Calif. — Essential workers who pick California's fruits and vegetables are waiting to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

In a walnut orchard near Linden, 38-year-old Luis Cisneros works six days a week during pruning season and anxious to get the vaccine.

"It's good to vaccinate everybody so we are protected," said Cisneros, speaking in Spanish. But, he also says he hasn't heard anything as to when he will get vaccinated.

Education is what Stockton farmworker advocate Luis Magana says needs to happen much more.

"They know that it's much good for the vaccine for most of the adults and farmworkers. But, they don't know where, when and how," says Magana.

RELATED: COVID-19: Why UC Davis is launching a farmworker safety project before harvest ramp up

At a news conference in Fresno, while updating the vaccine distribution in the San Joaquin Valley, Governor Newsom highlighted the need for farmworkers to get the vaccine. 

"Let us never take for granted, our farmworkers, our ag workers," Newsom said.

San Joaquin County Public Health Services says about 850 doses were given to farmworkers at its first Food and Ag Sector clinic Monday in Lodi.

That's a small number so far when you take into account one study, by the pro-immigration advocacy group, fwd.com, which finds there are 20,000 undocumented essential workers in the Stockton-Lodi area making up 11% of the county's essential workforce.

In Modesto, the same study found there are 10,000 undocumented essential workers, or 12% of the area's population.

RELATED: California senator calls on Newsom to set up farmworker vaccination strategy

Farm labor advocates say getting shots in the arms of workers may be more efficient with the vaccines coming directly to the fields.

"The concern that I have is the expectation that having these folks come into a clinic is not going to happen," said Jose Rodriguez, CEO and President of El Concilio of Stockton. "There's going to have to be mobile vaccination sites for these folks where the people providing the vaccines go to these folks worksites."

Luis Magana says getting the word out about the vaccine should come from those in direct contact with the workers.

"These labor groups, growers. I think we can reach most of the people, the farmworkers," explained Magana.

But, there is also pushback.

Earlier this month, Congressional Republican Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana called the support by President Biden for vaccinations for the undocumented a "slap in the face' to Americans waiting for their turn.

There is also a wild rumor circulating of the government implanting chips in the arms of the undocumented. "Which we know is not true, but nonetheless it serves to discourage people from wanting to get the vaccination," said Rodriguez.

RELATED: Free coronavirus testing available for Central Valley farmworkers

For farmworkers like Luis Cisneros, who has worked in the fields for 20 years, his shot can't come soon enough.

"It's better to take the vaccine to be more safe," said Cisneros.

Jose Rodriguez says he plans to meet with other non-profits in the Stockton area next week to plot out a strategy to vaccinate farmworkers more efficiently.

WATCH NEXT: How essential farmworkers have been hit hard by the coronavirus | ABC10 Originals, Ep.1 of 3

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