After months and months of suffering from the coronavirus ravaging their community, residents of severely affected East San Jose see a glimmer of hope: the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine.
While people across the Bay Area spend hours online and on hold trying to snap up coveted appointments to get vaccinated, a number of nonprofits have partnered with Santa Clara County and Gardner Health Services to ensure that those who Hit hardest by the deadly disease, did not fall through the cracks. They are trying to reach people without health insurance, those with limited English speaking, and the elderly – people like Cuc Ngo, who have difficulty using the internet at age 73.
“I’m very, very happy,” Ngo said while she waited in line. Her eyes shimmered above her mask as she huddled into a thick coat and hat. “We are afraid of COVID-19.”
SAN JOSE, CA – JAN. 28: People wait in the rain for free coronavirus vaccines from Gardner Health Services outside the Mexican Heritage Plaza on Thursday, Jan 28, 2021. (Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group)
Ngo was among the hundreds who lined up Thursday to be vaccinated at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose. There was one of several Bay Area clinics that served hard-to-reach communities. Gardner and his partners are able to vaccinate about 500 people each clinic day – Tuesdays and Thursdays – and aim to eventually build to 1,000, including people returning for their second dose.
By late Thursday afternoon, demand followed supply fairly closely and nearly all 500 cans had been claimed. However, organizers expect the demand to increase in the coming weeks as more people learn of the possibility of vaccination.
The infection rates tell how a disproportionately large number of places like East San Jose were infected by the virus. In zip code 95116, where the Mexican Heritage Plaza is located, the case rate is 10,503 cases per 100,000 people, according to the county. Near San Jose’s Rose Garden, an affluent neighborhood west of downtown, the fall rate is roughly half that.
“We’re like the community’s safety net,” said Olegario Avalos, interim director of nursing at Gardner, who serves low-income families who don’t always have access to traditional health care providers.
Instead of asking people to go online and schedule an appointment like so many health systems do, the nonprofit groups have come together to set up this vaccination site and used their existing connections with the community to reach out to those who care Now qualify The Vaccine – healthcare workers and those 65 and over – to let them know that all they need to do is show up. Eligibility is likely to increase in the future as the production and distribution of vaccines increases. According to state data, around 3 million Californians have received the vaccine to date.
“We have worked with these people for years,” said Pai Venegas, program director at Amigos de Guadalupe, an organization that is part of the Si Se Puede Collective, a group of nonprofits in East San Jose that works with some of them most vulnerable residents, including the homeless.
SAN JOSE, CA – JAN. 28: A large tent at Gardner Health Services’ coronavirus vaccination clinic provides shelter for those who wait during a 15-minute observation period after taking their pictures in the Mexican Heritage Plaza on Thursday, January 28, 2021. (Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group)
And show that they have. When it rained on Thursday, hundreds of seniors from the surrounding neighborhoods, including many Spanish or Vietnamese speakers, waited in line to get a bracelet with a vaccination appointment and eventually returned to get the shot. The Flood did little to dampen their mood.
Many East San Jose residents work in shops and restaurants, not the comfort and safety of their homes. And many live with several generations, making isolation or quarantine after exposure to the virus impossible.
Elizabeth Robledo’s elderly parents live with family members who are important workers exposed to many people every day. She was thrilled to sign her mother Lucinda (90) and her father Sabas (79) for the shot. “We can rest a little better,” she said.
The couple had health insurance, she said, but had been “run around”.
Now she said: “We can rest a little more comfortably.”
SAN JOSE, CA – JAN. 28: Student nurse Carli Delgado gives coronavirus vaccines at a Gardner Health Services clinic on the Mexican Heritage Plaza. (Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group)
David Garcia heard about the clinic on TV and barely made it at the age of 65.
“I think it’ll be a relief,” he said, waiting for his turn to come. “It’s all we have now.”
This is exactly what people like Jessica Paz-Cedillos, director of the School of Art and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, want to hear.
“We know our church and that’s how we show ourselves and serve them,” she said.
When the virus forced the school to halt its arts programs and cancel the community events that normally take place in the square, Paz-Cedillos and her team turned around. Soon the square became a food distribution site for hungry families and a testing site. Now a vaccination center. They use their artistic side to create public notices with people in the community who have received the vaccine, to encourage others to get it and to dispel fears and myths. And they direct multilingual social media posts to the zip codes where the virus did the most damage.
“We need to vaccinate people,” said Reymundo Espinoza, CEO of Gardner, adding that they will figure out the fundraising and logistics over time. “We just have to do it.”
When people returned to their recordings at noon, the atmosphere in the square felt solemn despite the storm clouds and gale winds. There have been some turmoil that nonprofits and Gardner employees worked to calm themselves down, but mostly excited.
“It was a tough time,” said Tony Vicari, 80, as he and his wife Nickie waited for their vaccinations. The couple lost a few close friends to COVID-19 and were dying to get vaccinated. “I just want to get the shot and get this virus over with.”
A few moments later, the couple, who both have their birthdays in January, received their wish – a kind of belated birthday present.
When the couple pulled up their shirt sleeves, health care workers helped them sit down and then administered the shots. Nobody winced.
“You feel more secure,” said Nickie.
“It’s great,” Tony repeated as the two of them were led to chairs under a massive tent in the yard of the square, where they were briefly observed before going home.
SAN JOSE, CA – JAN. 28: Lucinda Estabane receives a coronavirus vaccine that was shot and killed by nurse student Claudia Tapia in a Gardner Health Services clinic on the Mexican Heritage Plaza on Thursday, January 28, 2021. (Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group)
For more information on vaccination requirements, contact Gardner Health at 408-457-7100