Vulnerable groups receive COVID-19 shots from UC Davis Health, thanks to federal grant

Vaccination effort reaches farmworkers and African Americans


The men in their 20s and 30s, wearing dusty boots, jeans and baseball caps, stepped away from their work in the hilly vineyard and headed toward their employer’s office. 

But they weren’t taking a typical afternoon break. 

Instead, they found their way to tables, sat in plastic chairs, and rolled up their sleeves to receive COVID-19 shots from UC Davis Health nurses. 

The temporary vaccination clinic at Pamukey Yolo Vineyard near Esparto is the latest effort by UC Davis Health to bring COVID-19 shots to hard-to-reach, vulnerable populations. The strategic project is funded by a federal grant and overseen by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Office of Health Equity. The goal is to immunize people who are willing to be vaccinated, or who are still uncertain about the vaccine or have difficulty accessing it. The emphasis is on Latino farmworkers and African Americans in Sacramento and Yolo counties. 

“Latinos and African Americans and particularly farmworkers have been very vulnerable during the pandemic. For the most part, these groups have experienced high mortality and low vaccination rates,” said Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health disparities (CRHD). 

The CRHD has taken the lead on this initiative, known as MOVE IT UP: Mobilizing Organizations Via Equitable Immunizations and Testing through Unified Partnerships. 

MOVE IT UP complements another major outreach effort by the CRHD known as ÓRALE, which is funded by a federal grant and offers COVID-19 rapid tests for farmworkers and their families. 

Vaccines have been widely available for about a year. But, MOVE IT UP leaders are concerned that some members of racial and ethnic groups still lag behind other groups on immunizations. 

In fact, that’s why UC Davis Health, the UC Davis School of Medicine, student-run clinics and Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing have all taken a leading role across the Sacramento region to break down barriers and make the vaccines more accessible to the underserved. In addition, a major effort last year started by the UC Davis Health ambulatory division has provided hundreds of thousands of doses to patients and community members in standalone and pop-up clinics. 

Now, providers are focusing on the unique needs of Latino farmworkers and Black residents. They’re meeting them where they are, through community outreach and engagement. 

Worker in baseball cap Antonio González, 37, gets his COVID-19 booster shot in the office of Pamukey Yolo Vineyard near Esparto

Antonio González, 37, gets his COVID-19 booster shot from UC Davis Health at the office of his employer, Pamukey Yolo Vineyard near Esparto

Approaching 3,000 COVID-19 doses

MOVE IT UP began vaccinating people last December. Nearly 3,000 doses have been administered. 

The initiative analyzes vaccination data by zip codes, provided by CDPH, to target the cities and even neighborhoods where immunization rates are very low. 

The latest data generated for MOVE IT UP has led UC Davis Health into numerous locations, including: 

Most clinics are on evenings and weekends. 

“We are being very strategic on where and when we offer vaccinations,” Aguilar-Gaxiola said. 

“We are aware of the community’s health-related needs, and we are reaching out and engaging with these communities where they are and on days and times that they are most available,” he added. 

Providing the vaccine to employees at Pamukey Yolo Vineyards speaks to the convenience for migrant agricultural workers. Many of the workers don’t have transportation, lack English fluency, are not internet savvy or don’t have internet access. They also labor in remote areas, which makes it all the more challenging to access a clinic. 

“Some of us don’t always have time to go, or we get out of work very late,” said vineyard worker Antonio González, 37. “So, by them coming here to our workplace, it helps us a lot.” 

Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities
We are being very strategic on where and when we offer vaccinations… We are aware of the community’s health-related needs, and we are reaching out and engaging with these communities where they are and on days and times that they are most available.” Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director, UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities

González works in another Pamukey vineyard a few miles away from the afternoon pop-up clinic. His supervisor encouraged him and other workers from the farther property to get their shots. 

González received his Pfizer booster because COVID-19 infections, he said, have become so prevalent. “This is affecting all of us, older people and younger ones,” he added, “and I would recommend people get vaccinated for the good of everyone. To take care of one’s family, more than anything.” 

Community outreach and engagement opens doors

UC Davis Health is invited to workplaces, churches, schools and businesses with the help of local non-profit organizations that have been working in the community for many years. 

At the vineyard, staff from Health Education Council and Lideres Campesinas greeted the farmworkers, helped them fill out consent forms and offered information about the vaccine. They then led the workers into the office staffed with UC Davis Health intake employees, nurses, and a pharmacist, and interpreters from the partner organizations. 

Both organizations are well known among many Latino immigrants. Health Education Council, based in Sacramento, provides resources to improve the health of neighborhoods. Lideres Campesinas, based in Ventura County, is a statewide, grassroots network of farmworker women who improve lives in agricultural communities. 

Many Latinos who have gone this long without the vaccine still lack accurate information about the COVID-19 shots and the pandemic, said Carmelita Ramirez, the MOVE IT UP project coordinator who oversaw the vineyard clinic on a recent Wednesday. 

“Sometimes just getting someone to make that first-dose decision takes a lot of energy and education,” Ramirez said, explaining how UC Davis Health and its community partners constantly battle misinformation in the community and social media. 

“A lot of people will look really closely at the needle because there’s that myth that a piece of it will stay inside of you. That’s absolutely false but there’s still that worry,” Ramirez said. “It is of critical importance to carefully listen to them and try to understand their fears and the erroneous information they may have,” she added. 

She was thrilled that nearly 20 people received their shots at the vineyard. 

MOVE IT UP is part of a collaboration with CDPH Office of Health Equity, the Sacramento and Yolo counties’ Public Health departments and other organizations. 

While the Health Education Council and Lideres Campesinas assist with outreach to Latinos, the Sacramento Black Media Coalition and City Church help open doors for the African American population. 

MOVE IT UP is supported by a $5 million grant through a federal-state partnership. 

Representatives from various groups with MOVE IT UP pose for a photo before touring the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Ceja-Reyes Inc.
Representatives from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, FEMA, Yolo County, UC Davis Health, Lideres Campesinas and Ceja-Reyes Inc.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided the funding to the CDPH, which in turn contracts with UC Davis Health for the personnel, equipment, vans and other expenses related to delivering vaccines. 

MOVE IT UP is a “groundbreaking” model

The initiative is receiving high praise from federal and state health officials. 

“The work being done in partnership between Yolo and Sacramento counties, the UC Davis Center for a Reducing Health Disparities and the California Department of Public Health Office of Health Equity is truly groundbreaking,” said Commander Matthew C. Johns, the Bay Area-based regional health administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  

Johns, who oversees health and human service programs for Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii and other Pacific islands, made his observation the day he visited a UC Davis Health vaccination clinic for farmworkers and their families in Woodland. 

He called MOVE IT UP “one of the first examples in the world” where a high-risk group of people such as farmworkers could reach 90% vaccine coverage. He committed to helping MOVE IT UP “build on this success and provide this important set of services for boosters, first doses and testing among family members in this important community.” 

The Woodland clinic he attended in December took place at the administrative offices of Ceja-Reyes Inc., a labor contractor that employs more than 1,000 farmworkers during the peak of the agricultural season. 

Company president Roberto Ceja constantly encourages his employees and their family members to get vaccinated. About 850 employees got first or second doses before UC Davis Health stepped into the picture. 

“Most of the workers didn’t get boosters, but with this type of clinic, they are eager to start coming here to get their boosters because they didn’t know how to get one, or make an appointment,” he said. 

Ceja said that ever since his employees started getting vaccinated, their stress level has lowered as they feel safer. 

“In the past, there were people who refused to come to work because they were scared of the pandemic,” he said. “I’m very happy because this helps not only me, but all my workers and their families.” 

Yolo County Supervisor Angel Barajas, whose District 5 includes much farmland, said MOVE IT UP will “dramatically increase” the vaccination rate among agricultural workers.

“It’s a collective effort and I feel like we’re a team and we’re going to continue this until the last person wants to get vaccinated,” he said. 

MOVE IT UP was initially scheduled to end in March, but last week the contract was extended, based on the success of the project.