Employment status and language are barriers to vaccine rollout, local leaders say

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Local leaders said that employment status and language are significant barriers to vaccine rollout in low-income and rural Bay Area communities at Stanford Medicine’s COVID-19 Community Town Hall on Thursday night. 

Ruben Abrica, vice mayor of East Palo Alto, said that the combination of these two factors has caused his community to be hit particularly hard by this pandemic, making vaccination a top priority.

“More than 60% of employed people in our town have front-line jobs; they work in restaurants, retail, construction and healthcare,” Abrica said. “In terms of the housing, 25% of all our households are considered overcrowded.” He added that 39% of the East Palo Alto residents were born in another country, and that almost three-fourths of households speak a language other than English.

All speakers stressed the importance of local and community interventions. 

Mike González, manager of Santa Clara Family Health Plan’s Community Resource Center said that “right now, our center has been activated as a mobile vaccine clinic, which are simply pop-up clinics.” He explained that these clinics take away the need for an appointment, increasing access for underserved communities, especially for people without internet or computer access.

Abrica said his city is primarily working with two partners, the Ravenswood Clinic and the San Mateo County healthcare offices, to vaccinate residents. The city has also teamed up with Facebook, churches, nonprofits and schools to increase the number of vaccination sites.

He added that the city council recently approved $300,000 to hire a temporary team of people to accelerate the vaccination process. Half of East Palo Alto has been vaccinated so far. The community has also established a bilingual hotline (650-665-0482) to provide non-English speakers with information about the vaccine. 

Rita Mancera, executive director of Puente, a nonprofit aimed at empowering farm workers in Pescadero, said her organization has been able to vaccinate 100% of farm workers in her community because of long-standing community connections. To address language barriers, Puente implemented a texting system, where farmers could receive updates about vaccines via texts in their native language. 

“We didn’t wait for people to come to us to get vaccines,” Mancera said. “We went out to the farms and ranches and brought vaccines to them.” 

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Sophia Nesamoney is from Atherton, California. She is a STEM Research Reporter who hopes to pursue careers in medicine and creative writing. Contact her at nsophia ‘at’ stanford.edu.