Sonoma County turns to local health centers to help achieve vaccine equity
Late last June, Victor Arreola, a Healdsburg vineyard manager, contracted the coronavirus and ended up infecting his wife, two sons and a daughter.
Although he was the only one in his family to suffer severe viral symptoms, that experience has haunted him.
Arreola received a first vaccine dose Wednesday at a public vaccination clinic held inside the Huerta Gymnasium in Windsor. The 56-year-old agriculture worker was one of about 190 people inoculated.
“I didn’t have to think twice about it,” he said, of the opportunity for the shot against COVID-19 after his “very bad experience” battling the infectious disease.
The clinic was organized by Alliance Medical Center, one of several federally funded community health clinics nationwide now playing a key role inoculating low-income and minority residents. In Sonoma County, these local health centers also are leading the way toward a more equitable vaccine distribution.
In the early rollout of the unprecedented local vaccination campaign, there’s an ethnic disparity among residents who have gotten shots. According to the latest county figures, only 11% of people who received at least one vaccine dose have been Latinos, although they account for 27% of the population. White residents have comprised more than half of the residents that have gotten one or both of the required shots in the vaccine regimen.
The Windsor gym will host even larger groups Thursday and Friday, when over 1,000 more underserved residents will be inoculated against the pandemic disease.
Many people getting jabs in their arms are seniors age 70 and older, but Alliance is also targeting agribusiness, food production and a range of other essential workers who are among the most at risk of getting COVID-19.
“As a federally qualified health center, we really need to approach vaccine distribution through an equity lens,” said Sue Labbe, medical director of Alliance Medical Center.
For decades, federally funded local health centers like Alliance, West County Health Centers, Petaluma Health Center and Santa Rosa Community Health have been catering to the health care needs of tens of thousands of underprivileged and minority residents. Also, there’s local health centers in Cloverdale and Sonoma Valley. Alexander Valley Healthcare in Cloverdale is conducting vaccinations at the Cloverdale Train Depot, for residents 70 and older. And Sonoma Valley Community Health Center plans to host vaccine clinics for residents 70 and older at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Hall beginning February 16.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration announced it plans to begin sending COVID-19 vaccines directly to “federally qualified health centers,” in an aggressive effort to bring racial and ethnic equity to the nation’s vaccine campaign. The effort is starting small, with one million doses going to 250 of the country’s federally funded community health centers.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, president of the California State Association of Counties, said Wednesday the Biden team is launching direct vaccine distribution to about 100 local health clinics nationwide.
The initiative reflects the federal government’s acknowledgment of health centers’ years of work building relationships with low income and minority communities across the country, said Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer for Petaluma Health Center.
“Our entire mission involves ensuring that everyone in the community has access to health care,” Toledo said. “Because of that, we tend to see the farmworkers, the homeless individual, low-income populations, people who have a job today but won’t have one tomorrow.”
On Tuesday, his team held a vaccination clinic at the Petaluma campus of Santa Rosa Junior College, inoculating about 300 mostly Latino essential workers.
At its main campus, on North McDowell Boulevard, Petaluma Health Center is concentrating on vaccinating most of the community’s white residents age 70 and older.
On Wednesday, county public health officials revealed an updated demographic and ethnic breakdown of vaccinations. It shows that most of the 74,500 vaccine doses administered have gone to health care workers, paramedics, resident and staff of senior care homes, plus to local residents age 70 and older.