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Grassroots coronavirus vaccine outreach, Cloverdale clinic target local farmworkers

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

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Marta Baltazar was hesitant to get a coronavirus vaccine. She has seasonal allergies and she worried that she would have an adverse reaction to the shot.

But Saturday when she spoke to Dr. Douglas Jimenez at a vaccine clinic in Cloverdale sponsored by a local Latino outreach group, he assured her she would be OK.

“He said I wouldn’t have any reactions to the vaccine,” said Baltazar, 42, speaking in Spanish. “I feel good about getting it. I trust him.”

Saturday’s vaccine clinic was the culmination of several days of door-to-door outreach among farmworkers and their families in Cloverdale. Sixty people made appointments, but anyone could show up and get a vaccine at the pop-up clinic held at the Cloverdale Family Apartments.

The effort was spearheaded by La Familia Sana, a grassroots nonprofit that provides health and wellness through education and direct support to disadvantaged Latino and Indigenous-language communities. The event was held in conjunction with Alexander Valley Healthcare.

La Familia Sana, or The Healthy Family, was formed in response to community needs following the Kincade fire in 2019. Throughout the pandemic, the group has been providing education to farmworkers about COVID prevention, vaccine safety and how and where to get the vaccine.

Ezequiel Guzman, who heads La Familia Sana, said vaccine hesitancy among local farmworkers and their families can be overcome with education. But he said members of the community must be the ones to deliver that message.

“We need to not only educate the people who don’t want to take the vaccine, we need to educate the people trying to get them to take it,” Guzman said. “We need to much better understand what they’re feeling and what they are going through.”

In the past year, the group has built strong relationships among Cloverdale’s farmworkers, connecting workers with financial help, rental assistance and food distribution efforts. On Saturday they were giving out food boxes and loaves of bread.

Guzman said one excuse he often hears from those who do not want to be vaccinated is, “We’re going to leave it in the hands of God.” He said he’s been advised by the local archdiocese to tell people, “God sent us this vaccine.”

Father David Galeana of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Cloverdale was on hand Saturday to reassure anyone who had religious concerns about getting the vaccine.

“I’ve been thanking people for coming because it’s an important step to get over with the whole pandemic situation,” he said as people queued up to get their vaccines. “We have to have a mix between faith and reason.”

Guzman said others are concerned about vaccine safety, and point to the recent federal pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, which was linked to a rare blood-clotting disorder in at least 15 people nationwide. “They say, ‘I told you, Ezequiel, the vaccine is no good’ … J&J didn’t make it any easier,” he said.

On Saturday, Karina Ojeda, 21, said she was on the fence at first about getting inoculated because she heard people were getting high fevers and having circulation problems. But her employer, a food processor, encouraged workers to get it. Saturday she decided to come to the clinic with her family.

“I feel fine,” she said in Spanish after receiving her first COVID-19 inoculation. “It had to be done. It’s good to take care of others also.”

Dr. Shellie Burdick, chief medical officer at Alexander Valley Healthcare, who was overseeing the clinic, was there Saturday with her son, Maverick, 3. She said more than 11,000 vaccines have been given at Cloverdale drive-up inoculations.

“And now people aren’t coming anymore, so we’re doing these pop-up events. Now we’re finding these pockets of people who need an extra push to get a vaccine — people who are having a hard time getting an appointment or people who don’t want to get it. So it’s much harder,” Burdick said.

She said some people are worried about the long-range effects of the vaccine, years down the line. Or they are afraid and just can’t pinpoint why.

In the days before Saturday’s vaccination clinic, Mayra Arreguin, an organizer with La Famila Sana, visited the homes of several families the group has assisted in the past. At an apartment complex on North Redwood Highway and McCray Road, she encouraged several residents to stop by the vaccine clinic Saturday.

A 35-year-old mother of three, including a daughter with autism, said she’s heard stories about one of the vaccines affecting people’s blood. She asked that her name not be published to preserve her privacy.

“You never know if you might get something else from the vaccine. You get scared,” she said, speaking in Spanish.

On Wednesday, Sonoma County officials held the first public COVID-19 town hall in Spanish. The meeting featured Remedios Gómez Arnau, the consul general of Mexico in San Francisco, who directly addressed vaccine hesitancy in the local immigrant community.

Gomez, who will receive her second vaccine inoculation in May, acknowledged the hesitancy among some Mexican immigrants. She said she, too, had second thoughts at first because the vaccine, like the virus, was something wholly new.

But the more she learned about the vaccine, the more she came to understand that it was safe, she said.

“The first thing you need to have is data, you have to have truthful information and where does that come from, your health officials,” she said. “Because if it’s coming from my godmother, my aunt, my grandfather … well, some of them might be well informed, but not necessarily.”

Another pop-up clinic is scheduled for noon Sunday after Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 491 S. Franklin St. in Cloverdale.

You can reach Staff Writers Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com and Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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