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Bakeries, markets and balloons: How health officials aim to vaccinate Fresno County’s youngest kids

Baby receiving a vaccine on upper arm
CDC
/
Pexels
Kids as young as 6 months old can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

For some parents, the day to vaccinate their young children against COVID-19 could not have come quick enough.

The wait was excruciating,” says Amber Crowell, a sociology professor at Fresno State and a mom of two kids under 4. When the pandemic started, her children were only infants.

“We lost daycare,” Crowell says. “We went 16 months with them at home…my husband and I doing our jobs with our kids at home and waiting and waiting for the vaccine.”

Crowell and her husband received their dose of the vaccine as early as they could. They waited more than two years for their kids to be eligible to get the shot. When Valley Children’s Hospital announced they were starting to vaccinate young kids last month, Crowell and her husband signed up their kids right away.

“It may not completely protect them,” Crowell says of the vaccine. “But why not give them a little extra layer of protection so that even if they do get it, it'll be mild.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in mid-June that kids under age 5 could get their COVID-19 shots. Over 70% of all Californians have received at least one dose of the vaccine. In Fresno County, about 60% of the population is fully protected against the virus. And just 55% of Latinos, who make up more than half of Fresno’s residents, have received their shot.

It’s too early to tell how many of Fresno’s youngest kids have been vaccinated. About 60% of Fresno County’s youth population is Latino, and Latinos make up about 54% of kids up to age 17 in the county who’ve had at least one dose of the shot.

That’s why the Fresno County Department of Public Health has set out to raise the vaccination rates in young Latino children. Dr. Trinidad Solis, the county’s deputy health officer, says one of the biggest challenges facing the Latino community is misinformation about the vaccine. The most common misconception she’s heard is that the vaccine was developed too quickly.

“I just want to clarify that these vaccines, similar to the routine vaccines for other childhood diseases, have to pass through all the phases of the FDA,” says Dr. Solis. “These vaccines are safe and very effective at preventing hospitalizations and death.”

Dr. Solis and the health department have been trying out different ways to dispel myths and reach more of Fresno’s Latino residents. According to Dr. Solis, working with community-based organizations has helped make vaccines and resources as accessible as possible.

One of the organizations the county works with is Cultiva la Salud, which focuses on health equity for the Latino community. Marlen Miranda, the project lead for the organization, says they provide resources in front of carnicerias, panaderias and other places Latino families go. They set up tables, pass out flyers with educational information about COVID-19 and answer any questions the community might have.

Miranda and other Cultiva la Salud volunteers were at the Legacy Commons apartments near downtown Fresno two weeks ago vaccinating residents and nearby neighbors. And they didn’t come empty-handed.

“We've brought tacos,” Miranda says. “We've had balloon twisting for the kiddos, face painting for them, anything that families can benefit from and also just have fun.”

Daniel Torres, an 18-year-old resident at a nearby apartment complex, says he and his 15-year-old brother were over at a friend’s apartment when they noticed the vaccine site.

“We came by to swim because it was just hella hot today,” Torres says. “Then we saw the vaccination things and my little brother wanted tacos.”

Health officials are hoping other families will want to get their kids vaccinated. Visit myturn.ca.gov to find your nearest vaccine clinic.

Esther Quintanilla is a reporter for KVPR covering diverse communities.