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Sonoma County turns to local health centers to help achieve vaccine equity

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.

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.

Pauline Hopkins of Cloverdale receives the Moderna vaccine from Arkansas LVN Kerri Teague, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Huerta Gymnasium Windsor. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Pauline Hopkins of Cloverdale receives the Moderna vaccine from Arkansas LVN Kerri Teague, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Huerta Gymnasium Windsor. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

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.

Maggie Maine of Cotati is given the Moderna vaccine by LVN Sharnella Deloach of Milwaukee, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Huerta Gymnasium in Windsor  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Maggie Maine of Cotati is given the Moderna vaccine by LVN Sharnella Deloach of Milwaukee, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Huerta Gymnasium in Windsor (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

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.

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.

County officials said 15% of the county population 16 and older has received at least one vaccine dose as of Feb. 10, and 45% of residents 75 and older have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot. The county is home to about 490,000 people.

“Those over 75 comprise about 10% of our population, but have two-thirds of the mortality in Sonoma County,” said Dr. Urmila Shende, who is leading the county’s inoculation effort against the coronavirus.

The high mortality rates among older residents is the main reason local public health officials decided this week to begin vaccinating people age 70 and older. (County health officials reported three more virus-related deaths Wednesday, bringing the pandemic death toll to 283.) She said when 35% to 40% of residents at least 70 are vaccinated, the county will begin giving shots to those 65 and older, depending on vaccine supply.

The county remains in conflict with the state after Gov. Gavin Newsom opened vaccine eligibility in mid-January to Californians who are at least 65.

Victor Arreola waits 15 minutes in an assurance that the Moderna vaccine he received  to battle against COVID-19 will have no side effects, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 at the Huerta Gymnasium in Windsor.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Victor Arreola waits 15 minutes in an assurance that the Moderna vaccine he received to battle against COVID-19 will have no side effects, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 at the Huerta Gymnasium in Windsor. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

Although there’s still a wide ethnic disparity in vaccinations given, local health officials said Wednesday they expect the gap to greatly improve in the next week with the array of targeted inoculation events at community health centers.

“Our (health centers) have made incredible strides in reaching out to the farmworker and the agricultural community,” Shende.

West County Health Centers is vaccinating about 250 people a day at clinics at Guerneville School and Analy High School. The health center is reserving about 50 slots daily for food production and ag workers.

In a couple weeks, the health center hopes to double its vaccine supply and then inoculate 500 people a day, including 100 vulnerable essential workers, said Jason Cunningham, CEO of West County Health Centers.

To attract that number of people for shots, the organization plans to rely on its relationships with community organizations and businesses, Cunningham said.

“It’s not just us doing it ourselves, we’re partnering with others,” he said, citing Graton Day Labor Center and Korbel Winery, among others.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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