Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania’s nation-leading mushroom industry stepped up to the plate to both feed America and keep their workers safe. Now, after a collaborative effort by the Pennsylvania Departments of Agriculture and Health, the American Mushroom Institute, LCH Health and Community Services, and the Chester County Health Department, mushroom farmworkers are scheduled to receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
Following updated guidance announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Pennsylvania Department of Health has notified all COVID-19 vaccine providers that the pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine has been lifted.
“From day one of this pandemic we labeled agriculture as life-sustaining, but that label came with a heavy responsibility to keep food available and safe – we all relied on it,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “We all have a new appreciation for who is feeding us now – the people who grow and pack and process our food. We need them to be protected so that our food supply is protected.
“The American Mushroom Institute recognized both needs – they’ve worked hard to educate their workforce about the vaccine and boost confidence in the science. They now have a workforce who wants protection,” added Redding.
Pennsylvania is home to more than 60,000 farmworkers – both citizen and migrant – who work to ensure Pennsylvania’s farms run efficiently and produce food to feed the nation. Pennsylvania’s mushroom industry leads the nation in production, with nearly 60% of all mushroom production occurring in and around Chester County. The industry supports nearly 9,000 jobs and contributes $1.1 billion to the economy.
These farmworkers became eligible for vaccine as part of the commonwealth’s expanded special initiative to vaccinate frontline workers.
“Farmworkers play an important role in keeping the food supply flowing,” said Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam. “By bringing the COVID-19 vaccine directly to the mushroom farmworkers we are ensuring part of our food supply chain and helping to protect thousands of people doing critical work.”
The commonwealth has dedicated more than 5,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to farmworkers of the American Mushroom Institute network. The vaccinations are scheduled to take place through mid-May and will serve multiple farms and packing houses.
“We greatly appreciate the PA Department of Health and Department of Agriculture for their commitment in helping to bring much-needed vaccines to the mushroom farming community’s workers,” said Rachel Roberts, president of the American Mushroom Institute. “These front-line workers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to harvest, pack, and transport fresh mushrooms to for consumers around the country. We welcome this effort.”
With the majority of the mushroom farmworker workforce being Latinx and Spanish-speaking, the partnership with LCH Health and Community Services – the local federally qualified healthcare center that serves much of the Chester County-area migrant worker population – is critical to the success of the vaccination initiative. LCH ensures staff and resources for the farmworkers are bilingual to achieve optimal education for maximum confidence in the vaccine.
“Mushroom farms, related businesses, and the community that relies on them have been a focus of the Chester County Health Department throughout the pandemic,” said Jeanne Franklin, Public Health Director for Chester County. “Working together with the American Mushroom Institute and partners like LCH has helped us to keep our southern Chester County community informed and prepared to meet the challenges of COVID-19, and this support from the State certainly advances our timeline in the crucial vaccination process.”
The decision to offer on-site delivery of the one-shot vaccine was decided by the essentiality of these workers and the risks they face every day to feed the commonwealth coupled with the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Black and Brown communities and the recognition of barriers like transportation or language access that may have prevented or delayed these workers from accessing the vaccine.
Essential workers who get the COVID-19 vaccine are protecting themselves, their family, their co-workers, and their community. In addition to this, farmworkers who choose to protect their health with the vaccine are also protecting the availability and accessibility of food.