Local leaders call for better vaccine distribution in East Palo Alto

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San Mateo County leaders are calling for better state and federal vaccine support in East Palo Alto, a major COVID-19 hotspot in the county.

Relative to the rest of the area, East Palo Alto has been hit hard, with a case rate of 1,425 cases for every 10,000 residents. Nearby Menlo Park, by contrast, has a case rate of 442 per 10,000.

Even so, vaccinations have been lagging. In East Palo Alto, only 11% of the population has been vaccinated, the lowest vaccination rate of any city in San Mateo county. For comparison, Atherton, a much wealthier area, has a vaccination rate of 46%, according to the San Mateo County Health website.

To combat this disparity, local leaders asked for better support from state and federal authorities at a Monday morning news conference. Speakers at the conference included State Senator Josh Becker J.D. ’98 MBA ’98 and East Palo Alto Councilmember and Stanford Ph.D. candidate Antonio Lopez.

According to Becker, vaccine rollout so far has been focused on speed. He said, however, that “it can’t just be about speed” because reaching communities like East Palo Alto can take more time.

“And we need to take that time,” Becker said. “We need to go through trusted intermediaries in the community.”

Former East Palo Alto Mayor Larry Moody also emphasized the importance of building trust.

“Our community needs to have the assurance that we can have confidence in our elected officials, our federal state and our county governments to make sure that East Palo Alto is considered intensively for a distribution that equals that of other communities,” Moody said.

Officials were hopeful that the 1.1 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine that California is set to receive over the next three weeks would relieve some strain.

“J&J makes it a little bit less complicated,” said San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa. These vaccines require only one shot and have fewer handling restrictions, which could be a huge boon to essential workers who don’t have the time to travel to special distribution centers, he said.

San Mateo County also recently opened several mass vaccination sites, including one at the San Mateo County Event Center and a smaller one at the Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto.

“As we roll out these mass vaccination and community mobile sites, we are looking at community partners, people that they can trust to communicate the message,” Canepa said.

Lopez added that “an aggressive vaccination rollout is what the fight for racial equity and social justice is and looks like in 2021.” He explained that this strategy is more than just “the right thing to do,” pointing out that essential workers in East Palo Alto form “the economic backbone of the Silicon Valley.”

These leaders believe that more effort, including trust-building and easier access, is needed to properly distribute the vaccine to the East Palo Alto community.

“Let’s meet our community where they need to be met,” Moody said.

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