San Jose neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19 have lowest vaccine rates
Aurturo Alvarez receives his COVID-19 vaccine at Mexican Heritage Plaza on in February 2021. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    In East San Jose, one of Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 hotspots, infections surged past most areas in the region. Vaccinations did not.

    Less than 40% of residents age 65 and over in some East Side neighborhoods with the highest COVID-19 case rates have received a vaccine, according to Santa Clara County data.

    In a few parts of East San Jose, more than half of eligible residents have received a dose, such as those who live near Regional Medical Center of San Jose. But in other East Side neighborhoods, barely 30% have been vaccinated.

    In Alum Rock, a little more than 30% of elderly residents in each census tract have been vaccinated. The neighborhood had 6,789 COVID-19 cases in its 95127 ZIP code, one of the highest case rates in the county.

    These maps from Santa Clara County show COVID-19 case rates. The darker blue the area is, the higher the case rate.

    Meanwhile in more affluent San Jose neighborhoods such as Almaden and Willow Glen, more than 60% of residents over 65 got a jab in the arm. And in some Los Gatos and Palo Alto neighborhoods, more than 70% of eligible residents were inoculated.

    County health officials have linked slow vaccination rates to changing state and federal guidance, uncertain vaccine availability and incomplete data on vaccine allocations.

    But county leaders acknowledged disparities in areas such as East San Jose and said more vaccine clinics need to be embedded in vulnerable neighborhoods.

    “Traditional efforts aren’t going to work everywhere, this is not a cookie cutter situation,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. “In each community we’re customizing our approach to make sure we’re getting to everybody who needs services.”

    A county spokesperson said health officials are planning to open more vaccination sites in East San Jose and working with community organizers to dispel misinformation and hesitancy.

    Health care providers and community outreach workers in the East Side say there are a variety of barriers causing the inequity.

    Reymundo C. Espinoza, CEO of Gardner Health Services, said many East Side residents may not have reliable transportation to get to mass vaccination sites such as Levi’s Stadium.

    Gardner Health Services opened a walk-up vaccination site at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in the East Side on Feb. 2, and provided more than 500 vaccinations during its first week.

    But now that number has dropped by almost half, with the site only vaccinating 274 people during its second week and 286 during its third. Espinoza said many outreach workers have told him elderly people eligible for the vaccine in East San Jose are hesitant because of misinformation.

    “A lot of the issues we’re hearing is historic mistrust of the government,” Espinoza said. “Those are the things that have affected flu vaccinations. Some believe that the pandemic has been fabricated by the government.”

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    But it’s not all conspiracy theories.

    Outreach workers known as “promotoras” say some people want to wait and see the effects of the shot on their family members before they are vaccinated.

    Others are waiting until they can be vaccinated with their entire families.

    However, some promotoras are building trust by sharing their own experiences of receiving the vaccine.

    That’s what Julia Barba, the deputy director of community programs for the Community Health Partnership, did.

    “The thing that’s worked really well in community outreach is being able to say ‘Yes, I have received the COVID vaccine for the work that I do,’” Barba said. “’And I haven’t experienced some of these effects.’”

    Barba said she tells people that the vaccine is not only to protect them, but to protect the rest of their community. Overall, she said many of the people she speaks with are ready for the vaccine but are just waiting for their turn.

    Espinoza says he worries there won’t be enough space to conduct mass vaccinations at some East San Jose sites. The county should continue to use larger sites, such as the Mexican Heritage Plaza, he said.

    “The challenge with the vaccine is you have to have enough space for people to rest for 15-20 minutes,” he said. “That’s where the space issue comes in. We can put people to sit down for 15-20 minutes. At a clinic you can’t.”

    Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

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