A lack of vaccine appointment access and information has left some community groups filling the gaps for Indigenous and Latinx residents even as the Santa Barbara County Health Department continues to make strides toward increasing equity through targeted clinics and collaboration. 

To assist vulnerable residents in the North County, where the vaccination rate is significantly lower than the South County, organizations like Community Centers of the Central Coast are offering services that expand access and support. 

Along with regular vaccine clinics at their Santa Maria Way location, the clinic network, known throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties for its longtime care efforts in the Indigenous community, is reaching out to patients about vaccine opportunities and offering assistance to those with low technology proficiency.

"One area that we are trying to literally bridge is the digital divide. We find that digital equity and health equity really stood shoulder to shoulder over the course of the last year," said Magdalena Serrano, CHCCC Behavioral Health director. "It’s not about pointing figures, it’s about elevating a problem to where we can address it."

Technology barriers keep many Indigenous and Latinx individuals from learning how to get an appointment or that they are even eligible for a shot, Serrano said. In addition, the county's 211 hotline is frequently overrun with calls, leaving many inquiries unanswered.

To spread the word, staff spend extra hours cold-calling current and former patients. 

"Those calls are happening in the evenings, after hours, in text outreach campaigns. Any time we have free, we are focusing on getting that info out," said Victoria Wood, CHCCC chief experience officer. "Not only are they calling their own patients, they're also calling people who haven’t been in in the last several years."

During their outreach, staff have contacted some individuals whose family members were not able to get a vaccine in time.

"We heard heartbreaking stories of patients who lost family members while waiting for the vaccine. There was a woman who had lost her husband earlier in the week, and was overjoyed to hear [from us] about the vaccine," Serrano said. 

The clinic has continued to see vaccine hesitancy in the Indigenous community, according to Wood. When various vaccine brands arrive, clinic staff ensure accurate information is provided in Mixteco and other languages to keep people informed.

Sign up to receive headlines in your inbox!

Breaking News | Local Sports | Daily Headlines | Local Obituaries | Weather | Local Offers

"These are very special circumstances we are facing. By targeting those areas with information and education, we’ve seen enormous success in willingness to participate in vaccine programs," Wood said.

Groups like Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) also are offering Indigenous language speakers assistance in making vaccine appointments via phone.

The need for such services is especially high in the North County, where the regional gap in vaccine access has grown even as racial gaps have shrunk.

In February, Latinx residents were vaccinated at half the rate of White residents, but by April trailed behind White vaccination rates by just 3%. 

South County residents have consistently been vaccinated at higher rates than other areas, but as of this week, 22% of South County residents had been vaccinated compared to 14.3% in North County and 16.1% in Mid County.

Leaders at Community Health Centers of the Central Coast said the disparity between regions is not surprising.

"When you think about access in southern Santa Barbara County, you [largely] think about retired people with money. When you compare that with North County, it's a working-class community, and many of those folks don't even have the privilege of a PPO to attend a doctor’s visit," Serrano said.

When it comes to the agricultural community, made up mostly of Indigenous and Latinx individuals, advocacy groups like Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) have assisted public health officials with a handful of accessible clinics offering translation in Mixteco.

Going forward, as vaccine eligibility widens, CAUSE spokeswoman Rebeca Garcia said there need to be more farmworker-focused clinics to ensure the community has access. 

"I think the easiest process has been the clinics that the county have put on, where we have collaborated to make sure they are equity-focused and prepared for all elements of access. It then builds trust in the process," Garcia said. "Right now, some of the trust might be a little bit broken because it's so hard to get appointments."

0
0
0
0
0

Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

Recommended for you