Eager Bay Area vaccine hunters have gotten their COVID-19 shots. What will the rest do now?
Eager Bay Area vaccine hunters have driven hundreds of miles, added their names to lengthy waitlists and refreshed appointment web pages dozens of times a day — all so they could snag what shots are available whenever and wherever.
And as of Monday, most of those people are among the 55.7% of California adults 18 and older who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
By and large, they weren’t the ones who had to be swayed to get a shot.
But if the goal of herd immunity is to be reached, the next phase of the state’s massive vaccination effort could prove a taller order — ensuring hard-to-reach communities are reached and convincing the hesitant that vaccines could save not only their lives but also those of friends, family and fellow community members.
To reach the herd immunity needed to get the upper hand on the pandemic, a significant portion of the population must become immune to the coronavirus.
“The overall thrust of the state’s vaccination effort is going pretty well, thanks to a maturation of the system and a steady supply, but we’ve still got to get a lot more people fully vaccinated before we get there,” said George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC San Francisco.
One big group that still needs to be reached is seniors who have not yet gotten a shot either because of technological or mobility issues. In Santa Clara County, for instance, about 24% of residents 75 and older have yet to get their first dose.
“Don’t underestimate the logistical complications of getting those 86 or older vaccinated,” Rutherford said. “To finish vaccinating this group, it’s going to take a major thrust, perhaps door-to-door services or neighborhood pop-up clinics.”
Like most Bay Area counties, Santa Clara County now offers an in-home vaccination program where residents who qualify can get vaccinated either by a public health nurse or a member of the local fire department inside of their own home. To be eligible, residents much show they can’t leave their homes without crutches, canes, wheelchairs, walkers, special transportation or help from someone else. Residents who qualify can book an appointment at 408-970-2818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another priority for health care providers is reaching communities that are most vulnerable to the disease but lack resources and equitable access to vaccines.
While Bay Area health departments and community organizations have been working to eliminate vaccine barriers for low-income residents and communities of color, that push will be heightened in the coming weeks and months.
In San Mateo County, where officials have relied on pop-up vaccine clinics in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by COVID-19, ever-changing clinic schedules and locations have made it difficult for some residents to catch up.
County officials say they plan to “offer more predictable, regular, locally accessible clinics that give residents more time and flexibility to participate” as more vaccines arrive in the coming weeks.
“With more predictability, we’ll also be able to address barriers of access, such as transportation and registration support, and to respond with information specific to any resident’s concern,” a San Mateo County spokesperson wrote in an email.
Community leaders in East San Jose have reported similar issues of limited and scattered access. A community vaccine clinic at William C. Overfelt High School, for instance, is only open until 3 p.m. on weekends.
But by the end of April, the clinic should stay open into the evening on weekends, according to Rocio Luna, deputy executive of Santa Clara County.
“We’re pivoting our strategy to ensure that we’re making more appointments available on evenings and weekends,” Luna said Monday. “We know a lot of people are back to work and kids are back to school, so we are working to make sure that we do that.”
As for those residents who may be experiencing vaccine hesitancy, organizations across the Bay Area are working to separate fact from fiction — and give residents the information they might need to feel comfortable scheduling an appointment.
Jessica Lehman, executive director of the Bay Area organization Senior & Disability Action, has been spending the last few months fighting to get more vaccines to Californians with disabilities and helping them book appointments. Part of the effort involves trying to convince those who may be wavering to take the shots when they’re available.
Earlier this month, Lehman organized a virtual hour-long COVID-19 vaccine information session with speakers who included a doctor and a nurse from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and a representative from the Alameda County Health Department. They walked participants through the differences in the vaccines, their effectiveness, the clinical trials conducted for each vaccine and how to book appointments.
The session swayed Ligia Montano, 55, of San Francisco, to get her dose now. Montano said she was inclined to wait until the next time she visited her parents in Nicaragua to get a shot.
“I’m Latinx and I have asthma and I just don’t trust that big corporations here will do something that will be to my benefit in terms of my health,” she said in an interview.
But when the doctors from General Hospital explained things in a way that was easy to understand, like those she has seen in Nicaragua, Montano said she opened up to the idea.
The next day, she walked over to Ping Yuen Center in San Francisco’s Chinatown and got one of the last vaccines available for the day. Since then, she said, she’s been trying to relay her experience to reassure others who might be on the fence.
“I realized that I’m actually more worried about getting one of those COVID mutations that are really bad and not having the opportunity to fight it with my system” she said. “Now I’m telling people that ‘I think I did the right thing and I think you should consider it too.’ “