Local Organizations Push for Vaccine Equity
Four months into the nationwide march toward vaccination against the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonoma County is making progress on all fronts—especially when it comes to administering the shots equitably.
The latest public data from the Sonoma County Division of Public Health indicate that more than 116,000 county residents were fully vaccinated by April 1, more than 80,000 residents were partially vaccinated by the same date, and that county healthcare workers had administered more than 300,000 vaccines overall.
Considering there are just under 500,000 people in the county, we’ll soon eclipse the 50 percent vaccination mark—a milestone on the journey to herd immunity somewhere around 75 percent.
Perhaps more impressively, more than 83 percent of residents 75 and older were fully vaccinated by April 1, meaning many of the most vulnerable members of the population are protected. What’s more, roughly 20 percent of the county’s Latinx population has been vaccinated, and a recent Press Democrat story revealed that more than 95 percent of vineyard workers have gotten at least one of their requisite shots.
These numbers are direct results of countywide efforts to get shots in arms and to emphasize equity in distribution of shots.
Office of Equity Director Alegria de la Cruz said this approach is critical.
“Although low-income communities of color have been hardest hit by COVID-19, people from wealthier and largely white communities flooded our vaccination systems,” she recently told the Sonoma West newspaper group. “The same challenges that led to those communities [of color] being at high levels of risk for COVID infection are the challenges that lead to them being at risk for not being vaccinated.”
For this reason, local healthcare organizations, including the Healthcare Foundation, are working hard to make sure people from traditionally marginalized groups are among those to receive shots.
In a March 29 communication to friends and colleagues, Alliance Medical Center CEO Joan Churchill wrote, “Priority for Alliance is our patients, and people with limited resources and race/ethnicity minorities.”
Churchill isn’t the only healthcare CEO espousing this philosophy. In the western part of the county, Jason Cunningham, CEO of West County Health Centers, feels the same way. As of April 1, Cunningham’s organization had fully vaccinated roughly 7,000 patients—a large number considering there are only about 15,000 in the service area.
Cunningham said his group, like Alliance, has been working with Corazón Healdsburg to reach out to Spanish-speaking constituents and help them book appointments. Corazón workers also staff the West County vaccine hotlines, where they are on hand to answer questions about the vaccine and vaccination as they arise.
According to Cunningham, these conversations have been invaluable in helping West County residents overcome hesitancy about the vaccine.
“They know how to have conversations, know when people are hesitant, and know how to approach that sensitive subject,” Cunningham said, noting that he has hired the equivalent of five full-time employees from Corazón. “We literally couldn’t be doing this without them.”
Officials at Corazón recognize the importance of the service they’re providing.
Glaydon de Freitas, who took over as executive director in late 2020, said that at a time when the difference between haves and have-nots is greater than ever, it’s critical to focus on equity and make sure that everyone in the Sonoma County community has equal access to a resource that quite literally could save their lives.
“Whenever there is a scarce resource, systemic barriers and the privileges of some will mean that others are excluded,” de Freitas said. “The vaccine is a scarce resource that will keep people healthy, allow them to safely work in person, send their children back to school or hug their elderly parents. We know that COVID has disproportionately impacted certain populations. It would be unconscionable not to do everything we can to make sure this life-saving and life-changing vaccine is shared in a just and equitable manner.”
Down the road, the countywide vaccine picture is set to change dramatically. The county criteria for vaccine eligibility changed to people age 50 and older on April 1, and eligibility age will change again to include people 16 and older on April 15. As more people get vaccinated, overall numbers will grow.
The Healthcare Foundation strongly advocates for equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. We are proud to stand behind all the local FQHCs, Corazón and others in making vaccine equity a reality.