Marin executives promote COVID boosters in the Canal region

  • Canal Alliance volunteer Aurelia Vargas hands out free home COVID tests outside the San Rafael nonprofit on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

  • San Rafael’s Graciela Vidal receives help from Canal Alliance volunteer Isabel Resendiz who schedules a COVID reminder outside the San Rafael nonprofit on Saturday, February 19, 2022. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

  • A brochure in Spanish offers information about COVID-19 at Canal Alliance in San Rafael on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

The Marin County Public Health Unit, in hopes of getting more COVID-19 reminders, is set to expand mobile vaccination clinics in the Latino-dominated San Rafael canal neighborhood.

Dr. Lisa Santora, deputy public health officer, said the county plans to roll out more mobile sites and appointment windows in places such as Pickleweed Park now that the mass vaccination effort in the county-wide as winter draws to a close.

“We will refocus our efforts and resources on vulnerable communities,” Santora said.

Omar Carrera, executive director of Canal Alliance, said the neighborhood needs mobile outdoor vaccination sites and a stronger education campaign to help outreach workers.

“Removing barriers to vaccine access has been critical for the community,” Carrera said.

After a strong start during the initial rollout of the vaccine, many canal residents have been slow to get vaccinated. As of Feb. 12, about 40% of people living in the Canal Area who are eligible for a booster shot had received one, compared to 72% countywide, according to the county. Of those eligible, 93.2% in the channel were fully vaccinated with two doses, compared to 91.5% of eligible people countywide.

Lee Ann Prebil, an epidemiology consultant for the county, said data comparisons are affected because older residents are more likely to be augmented and the canal population is “much younger than the Marin population in his outfit”. In the two canal census tracts, 83% and 71% of residents 65 and older received a booster shot, according to county figures.

Canal Alliance offers free COVID-19 tests on Tuesdays and Fridays. Vaccinations are administered at the Marin Health and Wellness Campus on Kerner Boulevard.

Yolanda Oviedo, Canal Alliance’s coronavirus response manager, said she regularly hears that centralized mobile outdoor clinics staffed by local volunteers are needed to improve access for those pressed for time or who are reluctant to get themselves vaccinate.

“They are helped by someone who speaks their language, who lives in their community and can understand their challenges,” Oviedo said.

Aurelia Vargas, a volunteer, said those trying to get the word out were always fighting misinformation and trying to provide clear education about the need for a booster.

“People wonder why do I need another?” she says.

Chandra Alexandre, chief executive of Community Action Marin, said canal residents are more likely to have “fear and uncertainty about local government”. She said faith-based organizations have helped raise awareness, but said “we could use county support…for community health and safety.”

Callback appointments have been difficult to obtain since the fall.

The county extended the deadline for first responders to receive a third vaccine by one month, to March 1, and for unvaccinated employees to be fully vaccinated in April. Carrera said the county should also prioritize improving access to booster shots for essential canal workers, who were hit hard early in the pandemic.

“The risk they take to support our local economy is more risky than any other role,” Carrera said. “Let’s not make access to these vaccines more difficult than it already is.”

“The fact that we have very low rates of people accessing boosters shows that we may not have learned anything over the past two years,” he said.

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