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Are Newsom’s Efforts To Get More Vaccines Out To Underserved Communities Paying Off?

Madi Bolanos
Madeline Harris with the Leadership Counsel For Justice And Accountability shares information about an upcoming vaccine clinic coming to the town with community resident Norma Bustillo in Fairmead.


It’s a Tuesday morning in March and Madeline Harris with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability is knocking on doors in Fairmead, a small community in Madera County, to let residents know about a mobile vaccine clinic coming to the town that weekend.  


“We’re just passing out flyers about a mobile vaccine clinic that we’re going to do on Sunday,” Harris says to resident Mary Ann Moor. Harris says residents can register at the clinic but they must prove they work in the food and agriculture industry.  


Moor says she likes living in Fairmead because it’s quiet. But the community’s location is remote. That means that during the pandemic, it’s been hard to get COVID-19 information from her local health department. She says this is the first time someone has shown up at her doorstep with information about the vaccine. 


“My daughter is going to go online and make an appointment because I’m disabled I can’t do much,” Moor says.


Two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom launched a state initiative to get at least two million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to people in the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. The state met it’s 2 million-dose goal last week, yet just 20% of all 12.6 million vaccinations administered to date have gone towards Black and Latino communities.


Closing those gaps, and ensuring that shots make it into the arms of people most vulnerable to the virus, requires targeted outreach and education, especially in the San Joaquin Valley’s rural communities, advocates say.


Credit Madi Bolanos / KVPR
Madeline Harris takes down the name and phone number of Fairmead resident who doesn't qualify for the upcoming vaccination event but may be eligible for future clinics.

As she wedges a flyer through someone's front gate, Harris says residents in communities like Farimead face a lot of challenges signing up for the vaccine.


“A lot of people, who are at work when these links are posted, or don’t have internet access or use computers, or speak English aren’t able to get those appointments,” she says.  


So going door to door eliminates some of those barriers. And the clinic on Sunday, which is partnered with the Governor’s office, is a part of a larger state effort to get vaccine appointments for rural residents. 

The states’ efforts are welcome, Harris says, but they are just one step in the process. She says health officials should also work with grassroots organizations to reach the people that have been most impacted by COVID.  

“If local governments are going to utilize their existing channels of communications or existing infrastructure to do a project as big as vaccinating the entire eligible population who wants the vaccines,” Harris says. “then the same institutional racism that’s embedded in those institutions is going to replicate itself.”

Cultiva La Salud, a Fresno-based organization that has spent the last year helping Spanish-speaking residents navigate the pandemic, is also helping people register for vaccination.


Cultiva La Salud director Genoveva Islas says getting people to vaccine clinics  requires a lot of outreach efforts. Sometimes she’ll send organizers to local grocery stores or food distribution events in the days leading up to the mobile clinic. 


“It's a great way to capture people and to announce, ‘Hey you’re here to pick up food today but if you're also interested in the vaccine and you're eligible, call this number and we’ll register you,’” she says. 

She says the majority of people she’s spoken to who live in rural areas in the San Joaquin Valley have shown a high interest in getting the vaccine. Yet many have limited access to health care. That’s another reason why mobile vaccination clinics in areas like these are crucial, she says. 


“We don't have the great public transportation from our county [that can take] rural communities to the center of Fresno,” she says. “So coming out and doing these clinics is another benefit that people like and want to take advantage of.” 


Farmworker Sergio Gomez is among 150 people who got their second dose of the Moderna vaccine at a recent vaccine clinic at Orange Cove High School, staffed by Cultiva La Salud, St. Agnes Hospital and the Fresno State Nursing Program.

Fresno Bee
A Fresno County rural vaccine clinic is held at Orange Cove High School on Tuesday, March 16, 2021.


He says he was hesitant at first to get the vaccine because he was worried about potential side effects.


“I saw in the news and on the radio that a lot of people were getting sick, but my friends encouraged me to get it,” Gomez says in Spanish.


Genoveva Islas says she’s heard that fear from some people in these areas. And another part of outreach is combatting that misinformation. 


“The truth is that some people do have reactions, but that is by no means as severe as if they should get the full brunt of the virus if they were to get infected,” she says.  


That’s why she says it’s a good thing that Newsom is prioritizing vaccinations for underserved communities. And it’s gradually paying off, she says, local organizations are now vaccinating more people. 


“These are the same communities that have been putting their lives at risk for us as farm laborers so that feels like the right and fair thing to do,” Islas says. 


She says local organizations will continue working with vaccine providers to bring mobile vaccine clinics to communities that need them.


This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.
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