Amid anti-Asian violence, San Jose’s Vietnamese residents embrace COVID-19 vaccines
Duc Thaiau receives the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine outside Grand Century mall Saturday. Photo by Vicente Vera

Despite a fear of anti-Asian violence hanging over their heads, some Vietnamese residents lined up as early as 4 a.m. to get a COVID-19 vaccine at a new mobile clinic this week — a chance to defend themselves against a virus that’s disproportionately infecting them.

“We initially expected around 700 people but now there’s about 1,000,” said Asian American Center of Santa Clara County CEO MyLinh Pham. She organized a mass vaccination event in the heart of the city’s Vietnamese community within the span of a few days after getting 475 doses – but had to find a few hundred more after running out in the early afternoon.

Hundreds of people crowded Grand Century Mall’s parking for a shot — quickly spilling over the sidewalks outside San Jose’s shopping center.

Overwhelmed volunteers doubled as security when people formed a bottleneck at the sign-in tables and stepped past the low-hanging caution tape. Young people, elders and mall employees, most of them had one thing in common – they were Vietnamese-Americans from the Little Saigon neighborhood.

Asian American Center of Santa Clara County MyLinh Pham directed and organized Sunday’s vaccination event outside Grand Century Mall. Photo by Vicente Vera.

Vietnamese residents had the highest confirmed COVID-19 case rate among Asian Americans in Santa Clara County between June 1 and Dec. 3, 2020, according to county public health figures.

Fortunately, data collected by the Santa Clara Family Health Plan, which serves Medi-Cal and Cal MediConnect members in the county, showed their Vietnamese clients 65 and older have the second-highest vaccination rate among the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, at 73%.

AAPI as a whole have the highest vaccination rates by race according to the county’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard.

Still, the county’s aggregated data lacks a complete picture of vaccination rates within the individual communities labeled as “Asian.”

“We are actually advocating with the county to disaggregate the AAPI data,” said Sarita Kohli, CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement. “When you lump it all together, it presents a certain picture, but when you parse it out, it’s a totally different picture for the different AAPI subgroups.”

A county spokesperson blamed California’s vaccine registry system for the lack of data beyond the all-encompassing Asian designation, saying the state does not collect this information.

“Generally speaking, the high vaccination among AAPI is great, but are there pockets that aren’t getting vaccinated?,” said Huy Tran, a board member of the Vietnamese American Roundtable in San Jose. “It becomes very important for us to see on a smaller scale.”

Tran said a lack of data specifically on Vietnamese vaccination rates in the county makes it difficult to know whether misinformation about COVID-19 among Vietnamese residents, which started in 2020, has died down.

The San Jose-based health clinic Kohli oversees received more than 3,800 vaccine doses from the county since January.

“The city of San Jose has helped us identify neighborhoods where there might be senior populations and people having difficulty accessing transportation,” she said. “They are doing targeted canvassing for us, they might put up flyers in specific neighborhoods where eligible community members reside.”

Kohli said her organization is enlisting community health volunteers to reach residents among the Filipino, Vietnamese and Indian communities.

After Vietnamese residents, the local Filipino community were the most devastated by COVID-19 infections among AAPI.

Vaccination rates for Filipinos older than 65 sit at 57% as of March 17, based on the findings from Santa Clara Healthy Families.

People gather at a mass vaccination event hosted by the Asian American Center of Santa Clara County outside Grand Century Mall Sunday. Photo by Vicente Vera.

South Bay Assemblyman Evan Low also praised the vaccination rates among Asian American residents in the county.

“I hope we continue to get a shot into every arm so we can move beyond the pandemic in the coming months,” Low told San José Spotlight. “The AAPI community is in pain over the spike in hate crimes, but this shouldn’t lead us to shelter in fear.”

Pham also hoped the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes wouldn’t discourage elders from getting vaccinated – thankfully, she said, plenty came out for a jab last weekend to the Grand Century Mall.

“I loved seeing so many seniors come out, but it also makes me sad so many young people came so early and (seniors) had to wait longer,” she said. “But just having planned this a few days ago, the turnout from everyone was so amazing.”

Kohli said people might look at the data and say Asian Americans are overrepresented in the number that have been vaccinated. She attributed this to the number of Asian Americans represented in the initial eligible vaccination tiers.

“When we look at the county population of who is over 65, 30% is Asian, Not only that, 45% of health care workers are also Asian,” Kohli said – citing the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Hua and Duc Thaiau got their vaccine at the Grand Century Mall last week. They’ve been married for 40 years and felt lucky to be getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine together.

“I’m nervous because of the side effects they say on the news, but I hear good things about Johnson and Johnson,” Hua Thaiau said.

After Duc Thaiau was immunized, he said he felt no initial pain or discomfort in his arm. Same for Hua.

“He says there’s no pain now,” Hua Thaiau said, “but wait until the drive home.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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