San Jose museum helps vaccinate children for COVID in playful setting
Eight-year-old Madilyn Aylya said she was nervous to get the COVID-19 shot, but was also excited for the museum visit. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

With California set to require K-12 students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person classes, pending full FDA approval, the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose is stepping to help—keeping vaccination rates for Santa Clara County kids consistent with the region.

Museum Executive Director Marilee Jennings was concerned about some parents taking a wait and see attitude and saw the museum as an inviting backdrop. She orchestrated a vaccine clinic Sunday and sweetened the deal by offering free admission for families vaccinated there. Another clinic will be held Jan. 23, and there’s talk of others in February and March.

“These clinics and the museum visit just felt like the right combination,” Jennings told San José Spotlight. “This museum serves families. Being able to leverage what we do best for the greater good is hugely important to us.”

As of Dec. 30, more than 37% of ages 5-11 and 89% of ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in Santa Clara County. Almost 82% of all ages are fully vaccinated, but those with Medi-Cal lag behind. Only 63% of Santa Clara Family Health Plan Med-Cal members ages 12+ are fully vaccinated.

Asher Raihan, 11, looked forward to climbing on the fire truck and playing in the water exhibit after getting his COVID shot. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Chelsea Byom, spokesperson for Santa Clara Family Health Plan, said the nonprofit organization is working with trusted community partners to try to close the gap, especially for Latino and Vietnamese members.

The museum’s ability to offer incentives to low-income families meets a need, Byom said, especially for families who can’t take time off work or find childcare.

“The Children’s Discovery Museum was willing to work with us on targeting these events to our families who cannot afford to visit the museum,” Byom said, “which makes this even more special.”

Michele Lew, chief executive officer of The Health Trust, a nonprofit devoted to health equity, said the COVID vaccine clinic is timely with the omicron surge and kids going back to school.

Lew’s organization has seen vaccine hesitancy in the Black and Latino communities and among the Medi-Cal population. Being vaccinated at the museum might even encourage other family members to do the same, she said. 

Vaccination rates for kids in Santa Clara County are consistent with neighboring counties.

In Monterey County, as of Dec. 28, 22% of ages 5-11 and 81% of ages 12-17 have received at least one vaccine dose. In San Francisco County, as of Jan. 1, 90% of ages 5+ have received at least one dose and 85% are fully vaccinated. About 49% of ages 5-11 and 90% of ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated. In San Mateo County, as of Dec. 30, almost 91% of ages 5+ and more than 94% of ages 12+ are fully vaccinated.

A steady flow of people entered the Children’s Discovery Museum’s iconic purple building at 180 Woz Way in San Jose on Sunday. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department brought vaccines, including boosters, to the museum.

Layla, who just turned five on Dec. 10, perched on her father Armando Vera’s shoulders before getting her shot. Holding a crushed penny souvenir in her hands, Layla said she was excited to explore the fire truck and play in the kitchen.

“The museum’s fun and we can get the little one finally vaccinated and get our boosters,” Vera said. “We’re knocking it all out.”

Layla with her parents Armando Vera and Andrea Ortiz. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Zubera Raihan brought her sons Asher, 11, and Eraz, 8, to be vaccinated. Raihan said her children remembered coming to the museum on field trips and the child-friendly location took some of the anxiety away from getting a shot. Her boys were especially looking forward to playing on the fire truck and with the water exhibit.

Santa Clara County clinical nurse Chrinasha Brown pointed out that any available revenue to vaccinate more children is critical with the recent uptick in COVID-19 infections. The cost of outreach and lost revenue from closing the museum for the clinics will be covered by funding from Silicon Valley Community Foundation, The Health Trust, San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez’s office, Anthem Blue Cross and Santa Clara Family Health Plan. 

Nurse Chrinasha Brown said kids need to be vaccinated to lower the recent increase in COVID infections. She told five-year-old Maryam and six-year-old Isa Nguyen the vaccine strengthens their health. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Sarah Rudman, assistant public health officer for Santa Clara County, said the county is trying to get to the places where people need the vaccines the most.

“Our hope is being creative in these collaborations, down to fun places to be like museums, allow us every opportunity to make it easy and even fun to go get vaccinated,” she said.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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