After two months of COVID-19 vaccine rollout, vaccination rates in Black and Latinx populations are significantly lower than white and Asian communities, data shows, prompting county lawmakers to escalate efforts to reach hardest hit populations.
Roughly 31% of Black and Latinx seniors over age 65 have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Friday, county data shows. By contrast, 57% of older Asian Americans have gotten at least one shot, as have 44.7% of white residents.
County data also shows that only 7% of all eligible Latinx residents, or 28,792 people who are 16 and older, have received the vaccine. Eligible white residents are vaccinated at more that double that rate at 16.6% and eligible Asian Americans are at 17.8%. California has only vaccinated older residents and health care workers so far.
Educators and workers in childcare, food, agricultural and emergency services will be eligible starting Feb. 28.
Across the South Bay, Black and Latinx residents have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Latinx residents account for more than half of all COVID-19 cases countywide despite comprising just a quarter of the population. Black residents represent nearly 3% of the COVID-19 deaths despite being only 2.4% of the population.
While misinformation and long-standing distrust of the government contribute to vaccine hesitancy in these communities, outreach workers say disparities in access, language and technology barriers also play a role.
“The numbers aren’t terrible but you can see the gap,” Santa Clara County COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said Tuesday. “Those are the things that we are working on a regular basis to solve.”
As of this week, more than 272,097 eligible residents in Santa Clara County, or 16.6% of the county population, has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine; 7% of the population have received both doses, data shows. With the numbers of cases and hospitalizations plummeting, county health officials say they’ve vaccinated more than 51% of residents who are over 65.
But vaccine distribution has not been equitable among all ZIP codes, San José Spotlight reported.
As of last week, wealthier and whiter neighborhoods in Almaden, Willow Glen, Los Gatos and Palo Alto fare much better in vaccination rates, at 60% to 70%, than those in lower-income neighborhoods in East San Jose and Gilroy, at roughly 40%. The gaps continue to persist.
The county has launched outreach programs to reach hardest hit communities. On Tuesday, Santa Clara County supervisors Otto Lee and Cindy Chavez, who asked for vaccination data to be broken down by census tracts and race, pushed for more proactive efforts.
They proposed a plan, using data and feedback from outreach workers, to expand current efforts to reach more residents.
The proposal, unanimously passed on Tuesday, requests two things: a detailed plan to open more testing and vaccine clinics in areas with high positivity rates and relatively low vaccine rate, and an advertising campaign to promote vaccinations in communities of color.
“What we’re finding out is that there has been a lot of fake news in the community and many people are actually getting very worried about (the vaccine’s) side effects,” Lee said Tuesday. “We really need to do a better job to get the true facts out to a community.”
The campaign will pay for advertisements on Spanish-speaking TV and radio shows to build trust and confidence among skeptical residents, Chavez added. County officials will report on campaign’s costs at the next meeting.
“The amount of misinformation that we’re hearing through the ambassador program is astounding,” Chavez said. “Communities where English is a second language are more vulnerable to this information because there’s not a lot of modes of information out there.”
The proposal comes after a survey found COVID-19 spread remains the most concerning issue for county residents.
Since December, the county has funded more than 100 outreach workers to go door-to-door in San Jose and promote COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. It now plans to add another 30 full-time staff to focus on high risk areas. The county is also looking to expand its phone banking efforts to help newly eligible residents book vaccination appointments.
Local officials have also brought vaccines closer to East San Jose and Gilroy, while urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to prioritize vaccines for hardest-hit census tracts.
The county opened a mass vaccination site at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 9 and launched pop-up clinics that rotate between East San Jose and Gilroy last week. Emmanuel Baptist Church also turned into a walk-in clinic this week, becoming a second vaccination site in East San Jose beside the Mexican Heritage Plaza. A new site will also open at Eastridge Mall on March 1.
As changes to the state’s distribution plan and uncertainty about vaccine availability loom, Chavez said the proposal will keep the county’s focus on prioritizing the most impacted communities.
“Thank you for your leadership,” Morgan Hill resident and Board of Education President Claudia Rossi said Tuesday. “We are finding that in the middle of all this darkness, we are very hopeful with the strategies that you are championing deployed in our community.”