Lying in a bed surrounded by her grandchildren’s stuffed animals, 82-year-old Trinh Trinh got a knock on the door she was eagerly awaiting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A nurse, armed with a COVID-19 vaccination, stood on the other side. Trinh, an East San Jose resident, is one of the countless elderly residents who can’t leave the house for a vaccination — despite being at the highest risk for the deadly virus.
After the long-awaited jab, Trinh smiled and kissed the nurse’s hand.
“Thank you so much,” she said with a beaming smile. “I’m happy to protect myself, my grandsons and every member of my family.”
The nurse who got the kiss is the one who created the program to make house calls to vaccinate elderly people such as Trinh with mobility and accessibility issues.
“It’s rewarding to be able to help people at home who can’t get out,” said Santa Clara County Public Health nurse Jennifer Rivera, who piloted the program six months ago. “Just to see that smile.”
After being repeatedly asked by those being vaccinated at mobile clinics what could be done for their homebound parents, Rivera spoke to her managers about starting a home visit program. The team includes two public health nurses, a coordinator and callers who do screenings, as well as paramedics and fire personnel. They also visit long-term care facilities.
Rivera said the need has been steady and the county needs more nurses. Requests for in-home vaccines now exceed 20 calls a day.
“I’m doing the best I can to get to people as fast as I can,” she said.
Since March 12, Rivera and her team have vaccinated 1,200 residents inside their homes from Palo Alto to Gilroy. As of Sunday, there have been 136,033 cases of COVID and 1,744 deaths in the county. About 81.9% of county residents have completed their vaccinations.
The team of nurses are tackling the highest-risk ZIP codes first — that means visiting East San Jose almost every day. And that hits home for Rivera.
“I’m from East San Jose, so it really touches home for me,” Rivera said. “I have been out vaccinating family members of health care workers and essential workers. It’s so satisfying to make a difference for them and their families.”
At her first visit, Rivera brings COVID educational pamphlets and asks patients if they have any questions before getting the vaccine. She tells them about possible side effects and assures them she’s prepared with emergency medications in case they have an allergic reaction.
Rivera said one client began crying from joy when she entered his home. “I’m so glad you’re here because you’re going to vaccinate me and I’m going to be able to see my family,” he said, according to Rivera.
Rivera said she talks people through the process and some are so caught up in the conversation, they don’t even realize they got the shot.
Before administering Trinh’s vaccine, Rivera greeted her warmly and unpacked her supplies, using a chair as an impromptu stand.
“Good morning,” Rivera said. “It’s good to see you.”
Rivera updated Trinh’s vaccination card and asked if she suffered any side effects from the first shot.
“Today you’ll be receiving your second dose of Pfizer,” Rivera said as Trinh signed the vaccination card. “Are you ready? Relax your arm. Take a deep breath.”
‘Peace of mind’
Rivera said if a patient is feeling ill, she’ll skip the shot. And she may not know if the patient or a family member has COVID.
“I have to protect myself, and protect them as well,” she said. “I keep my mask and face shield on and try to get patients close to the door or vaccinate them in the yard. It gives me peace of mind.”
Rivera waited 15 minutes after administering the vaccine to make sure Trinh didn’t have any side effects. She stays 30 minutes with patients who have experienced allergic reactions to medication.
On a typical day, Rivera goes to the office to collect her appointment charts and picks up the vaccines in a cooler from a pharmacist at the fairgrounds. She makes four to five stops in a day and at each stop she can immunize up to five family members.
Helping to prevent people from getting COVID means everything to her, she said.
“It’s so rewarding to be able to go to someone’s home who has no other way of getting out to the community to get vaccinated,” Rivera said. “To bring hope to them means so much to me and to them.”
Rocio Luna, Santa Clara County deputy county executive, said the program is still going strong.
“It underscores how important it is to vaccinate the entire population,” Luna said, “and for us to work with people to make sure they’re not challenged…to get a vaccine. We’re really proud of the number of folks we have vaccinated.”
Sang Trinh said it was important for his mother to be immunized since his young children returned to school on campus.
“The FDA approved Pfizer. With the second vaccine, she’s fully protected,” Sang said. “It’s beautiful.”
To schedule an in-home COVID-19 vaccination, call 408-970-2818 or email [email protected]
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]