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Atrium extends vaccination program to farm workers

In order to ensure that as many people in the region get vaccinated as possible, Atrium Health is extending its vaccine availability through a program targeting rural areas and farm workers.

The original program began in mid-May and lasted for about two weeks. Information about the program was distributed to farms through county extension centers.

It’s aimed at populations who would otherwise likely be unable to go to their local health facility to get the vaccine, such as migrant workers and farm owners, according to Atrium.

The vaccination program, the first of its kind for Atrium, is the passion project of Dr. Dawn Caviness, a family medicine physician with Atrium Health Cabarrus who grew up on a farm in Randolph County.

“This is kind of a dream come true project for me,” Caviness said in a Zoom call with reporters Thursday afternoon, noting she approached Atrium leadership about her concerns that not enough farmers had access to vaccines.

Dr. Dawn Caviness, a family medicine physician with Atrium Health Cabarrus, has been helping to vaccinate local farm workers in the area. Photo courtesy of Atrium Health.

While many local health departments in rural counties were working to vaccinate farmers, “there were a lot of farmers falling through the cracks and some farm workers who didn’t have access to the vaccines and we were able to step in with this project and help fill those needs and get vaccines out to those workers.”

She mentioned that most farmers knew the importance of becoming vaccinated, but they were simply too busy to make an appointment and travel to get a shot so “we just made it easier for them.”

So far, Atrium has visited 10 farms in the area and administered 208 doses of vaccine. Unfortunately, there has been a “large degree of vaccine hesitancy” in Stanly County, Caviness said, and as a result, she’s yet to vaccinate any farm workers in the county.

Caviness said she plans to distribute more “farmer-focused vaccine information” to the Stanly County Cooperative Extension Center to try and address any lingering concerns people may have.

This comes as only 32 percent of Stanly County residents as of Thursday have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data, lower than almost every other county in the region.

“We are excited to partner with Atrium Health for the vaccine-to-farm program,” said Stanly County Extension Director Lori Ivey. “Because farming hours can be from sunup to sundown, it’s important to get vaccines to farm workers, owners and families that might not have an opportunity to leave the farm operation during the day.”

Even though she has a farming background, Caviness said the experience of visiting local farms to vaccinate workers was a “unique situation.”

“I’ve never given vaccines off the back of a four-wheeler before and I’ve never given vaccines with cows mooing in the background,” she said.

Specifics of the program

As part of the program, Atrium staff members deliver COVID-19 vaccines directly to any farms or agricultural businesses interested.

Those eligible to receive the vaccines include farmers, farm workers, workers/owners of agricultural businesses and family and friends.

People can request either the two-shot Moderna or Pfizer vaccines — which would require two trips to each farm — or the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine and Atrium staff will do their best to accommodate. Anyone 18 and older can receive all three vaccines while anyone 12 to 17 can get the Pfizer.

After receiving the shot, people will be monitored for 15 to 30 minutes before they can safely return to work.

To sign up, email Sherry Wilson at Sherry.Wilson@atriumhealth.org. People can also leave a message on her voicemail at 704-403-1042.

When reaching out to Wilson, people should include information regarding how many vaccines will be needed and if they have a vaccine preference, the address where Atrium staff will be administering the shots and the best number to contact to arrange the farm visit.

Staff can also bring interpreters if workers speak Spanish or any other languages.

If people are on the fence about getting vaccinated, they can either consult with their personal doctor or they can email Caviness at dawn.caviness@atriumhealth.org.

 

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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