Protection project: Central Valley catching up on vaccinations with focus on equity

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The CDC reported Wednesday that 97 million Americans are now at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19. That's almost 30%.

The percentage is even higher in California, but not in the Central Valley even as efforts at vaccine equity are showing some good results.

Gabby Faria and Phil Lopez lined up for their second shots Wednesday, getting them within two weeks of maximum protection from COVID-19.

"We are so excited," Faria said. "Such a sigh of relief. It's been a long year."

They joined hundreds of people at Sierra Pacific Orthopedic, most of them hoping vaccinations can get the community closer to something resembling normal.

"Hopefully the opportunity to reopen," said Mark Blomquist after getting his second dose of the Moderna vaccine. "We've got to get the economy going. We've got to get our students back in the classroom."

The early returns show the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have protected 90% of fully vaccinated people from getting infected.

Sierra Pacific has seen positive results up close in its 220 employees.

"Before Christmas, we had 75-80% of our employee population vaccinated and since January, we've had zero employees out for personal COVID-related issues," said chief operations officer Jeremy Ealand. "No positive tests, no presumptive positive, and even no quarantines."

But Ealand says the biggest challenge moving forward is educating people about the effectiveness and convincing them to get vaccinated.

Action News dug through the state's open data portal and found more than 275,000 people in Fresno County have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine - 27.6% of the population.

That's lower than the state's 30.7%, but the rest of the Valley counties have even lower vaccination rates than Fresno. It's 24.9% in Mariposa County, 24.6% in Madera County, 23.8% in Merced and Tulare Counties, and 17.8% in Kings County.

Central California started catching up with the rest of the state in early February when Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a new focus on equity.

State data show the population with the lowest income is now getting a much bigger share of vaccinations, although they've still trailed the wealthiest population every week.

Dr. Tania Pacheco-Werner says the improvement is drastic in rural areas served by mobile clinics.

"One of the key things moving forward is that people just really appreciate the lowest barrier clinics," she said.

Dr. Pacheco-Werner says taking shots directly to familiar places for underserved communities, like her COVID-19 Health Equity Project is doing this week at Asian Village, makes people more comfortable.

Starting Thursday, anyone 50 and older are eligible for a vaccine and then two weeks after that it's anyone 16 and up, so those vaccination numbers should start increasing rapidly.
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