San Jose, facing service cuts, looks to hire workers to boost COVID-19 vaccine rollout
Resident Aurora Flores receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose in February 2021. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Struggling to meet its COVID-19 vaccination goals, Santa Clara County is calling on San Jose to help.

    But helping the county ramp up vaccinations could mean a reduction in some city services.

    In response to the county’s call for mutual aid, San Jose could recruit up to 250 people — hired and funded by the city — to help with the vaccination effort. The city also identified more than 100 possible sites for vaccine clinics, including more than 30 city-owned sites. The locations are not yet known.

    “When push comes to shove, we’re the large player in the county and we end up shouldering the large burden as a result,” Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness told the San Jose City Council Tuesday.

    To help the county reach its goal of vaccinating 85% of its residents by August, the city will look at hiring people to run vaccination clinics by serving as parking attendants, greeters, line monitors and vaccine assistants. Once the city is done with recruitment, the jobs will be managed by the county.

    But the request for aid could put San Jose in a tight financial position, leading to service cuts. Some of those cuts include a reduction in bicycle and pedestrian safety projects, support for distance learning, digital inclusion efforts and response times for tow permit requests.

    The graphic above shows services that may be impacted if San Jose helps in vaccine efforts. Presentation from Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness.

    “I would try and steer away from taking services away from residents as much as possible — they’ve survived a year of reduced services,” Councilmember David Cohen said. “We’ve heard a lot of frustration.”

    Mayor Sam Liccardo said he’s lobbied for federal funds to create jobs for displaced residents who want to help the vaccine effort. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would be one potential funding source, he said.

    “It’s a great idea to use available FEMA resources to pay people — that’s the best option,” Cohen agreed. “I think there’s clearly an interest in volunteering for the vaccination program so we can fill in gaps.”

    The council unanimously agreed to advocate for creating more jobs to aid the vaccine effort. Lawmakers also want to mobilize firefighters to help with the vaccine rollout and to set up mobile vaccine stations at schools and easily accessible sites.

    A new vaccine clinic opened Tuesday at Emmanuel Baptist Church in East San Jose, joining another vaccine site at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Another will open at Eastridge Mall on March 1. The sites will make vaccines more accessible to East San Jose residents who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

    Harkness reported approximately 16% of Santa Clara County residents have been vaccinated. Eighty percent of seniors 70 years and older have received one dose, while 50% of those 65 years and older have received one dose as of Dec. 15.

    The Valley Homeless Healthcare program, which provides services to unhoused individuals in Santa Clara County, has administered 125 vaccinations to homeless residents 65 years and older. Those individuals are expected to receive a second dose starting next week.

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    Eighty-three percent of the San Jose Fire Department employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine, officials said. The city has limited data for the Police Department but reported that 637 out of 1075 sworn officers have been vaccinated.

    Despite progress, the rollout is still unequal.

    “There remains a significant racial disparity between the higher vaccination rates of Asians and whites and the much lower vaccination rates of the Latinx and African American elders,” Harkness said.

    While the county began by vaccinating health care professionals and first responders, people working in agriculture, childcare or emergency service roles will be eligible for vaccines as soon as Feb. 28.

    Beginning March 15, residents ages 16-64 who are at the highest risk of death if they contract COVID-19 can get a vaccine. These individuals include pregnant women and those who have been diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, chronic kidney or pulmonary disease, organ transplants, Down syndrome, sickle cell anemia and severe obesity.

    “It’s important that we get the vaccinations out to as many folks as possible as quickly as possible,” Councilmember Pam Foley said.

    The City Council recently submitted a letter to the state’s Community Vaccine Advisory Committee urging it to provide vaccines to the hardest hit communities, including homeless individuals.

    “We’re trying hard to do everything we can to ensure our residents are not getting pushed back in line,” Liccardo said. “I know we’ve got a lot of more work to do and I just appreciate everything you guys are pushing on right now.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.


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