From late-July to September, dairy farmers are working around the clock as a large number of calves are born.
Dairy farmer and Filipino Dairy Farm Workers Association chairman Earl Magitay said the farm he worked at had 3000 cows, all calving “at the same time”.
During this time, Magitay said it was hard for dairy farmers to make time for Covid-19 vaccinations.
“Many are tired and may have no time at the moment for a vaccine,” he said.
Magitay said he believed only a small percentage of dairy farmers were vaccinated, while the rest were waiting for the busy season to end before booking an appointment.
General secretary of First Union Dennis Maga agreed.
“It is quite hard to do a booking with the timing as well, this is the most difficult time for them,” he said.
Maga believed dairy farmers should have been vaccinated earlier in the roll-out because they look after livestock, adding: “This is our food, this is no different from anyone working in the supermarket, or anyone in the essential industry.”
But there were many “logistical challenges” when attempting to vaccinate dairy farmers, he said.
“Their location is quite challenging. Second, if you book them [an appointment], you have to make sure that is the time they are available to do so.
“That is actually the challenge for dairy farm workers, the timing, when and where they can actually have their vaccinations,” said Maga.
Another concern was the lack of information available for farmers, who live rurally, said Magitay.
He said he wished the Ministry of Health had been more proactive in targeting the dairy industry.
“It would be good if there was an option where they can go and do vaccination in the farm,” he said.
Meanwhile Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Chris Lewis urged farmers to do all they can to enable staff to get vaccinated.
“I know dairy farms are flat tack with calving and workforce shortages have never been worse. But there’s nothing more important than your family’s health, and that of your staff and their families.”
Lewis said district health boards could help by booking a hall in smaller towns for vaccination clinics that were well advertised in advance.
“If it’s possible to combine getting a jab with a trip into town for the next supermarket shop, try to make it happen. It’s part of being a good boss,” Lewis said.
Astrid Koornneef, Ministry of Health Covid-19 vaccination operations manager, said “no farmer-specific vaccination events have been set up so far”.
“District health boards with higher proportions of remote and rural populations have been rolling out events where people in rural communities can be vaccinated close to where they live and work,” Koornneef said.