By Zach Goodwin
Ceci Dominguez, a resident of Elysian Valley, did not start out to become a poster child for getting vaccinated against COVID-19. But she has become a familiar local face in the effort to combat fear, misinformation and practical obstacles that are hampering the vaccine rollout.
Dominguez, 67, logged onto the Los Angeles County vaccination-appointment website early on Jan. 19, the day that L.A. began scheduling vaccine appointments at Dodger Stadium. In the course of piecing together how to navigate the portal, she called the offices of two local council members, Mitch O’Farrell and Gil Cedillo, as well as a friend. Despite their collective efforts, they could not find an open slot to book an appointment.
Then, at 4:45 p.m. an appointment opened up — for 4:50 p.m. that same day.
“I left my back door open, I left my dogs in the house and proceeded to drive to Dodger Stadium,” said Dominguez. Luckily for her, she lives only three minutes from the stadium, one of the largest vaccination sites in the country.
Upon receiving her vaccination — and knowing the hesitancy of many community members to get their shots — Dominguez decided to show-and-tell her community that she had been vaccinated by posting a video to Facebook.
“I sent it to all my seniors, I sent it to almost everyone in my phone,” Dominguez said. “I showed a picture of myself with my band-aid and I said, ‘I’m fine, I can’t wait for my second dose.”
Dominguez’s video was shared by the East Area Progressive Democrats (EAPD) club, for which Dominguez serves as membership chair, amplifying its reach. Hans Johnson, president of the EAPD, said that the group has been involved in combating misinformation since the beginning of the pandemic. Evidence-based information spreads most effectively when carried by a trusted community member like Dominguez, said Johnson.
As of Feb, 10, 1,221,515 Angelenos have received their first vaccine dose against COVID-19 — around 12 percent of the population of L.A. County. Efforts to ramp up the pace of vaccinations are underway. At the same time, however, data indicate that Black and Latinx residents are being vaccinated at disproportionately lower rates than white residents, despite higher rates of COVID-19 infection in non-white communities.
Some of the obstacles to widespread and equitable vaccination include L.A.’s transportation and healthcare infrastructure, which are disproportionately inaccessible to minority communities. Legacies of medical abuse, such as forced sterilization campaigns against Latina mothers in 1970s Los Angeles, are also likely to make non-white residents more hesitant to get vaccinated.
“It runs through our minds because history has told us that these things [malpractice] have happened,” said Dominguez, a second-generation Mexican-American.
According to Ilan Shapiro, a bilingual physician and Medical Director for Health Education and Wellness at AltaMed Health Services, the key to restoring trust lies in using media, trusted community members and “promotoras” — community members who receive basic health education training — to talk about the vaccine’s benefits in layman’s terms. Shapiro refers to this process as “vaccinating our communities against fear with a dose of truth.”
Shapiro has spoken with anchors on Univisión and Noticias62 and uses his social media to share information about the latest COVID-19 developments. He has also teamed up with the Mexican Consulate of Los Angeles to do outreach — all residents, regardless of citizenship status, are eligible to be vaccinated, but many undocumented residents fear deportation if they step forward.
Locally, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council has launched a free service to help senior citizens navigate vaccine-registration websites and get to their appointments. Full details are available here. In a nutshell, by calling a hotline — 323-435-3850 — seniors are matched one-on-one with volunteers who can help them register for a vaccine appointment and drive them to vaccination sites.
“I’m hoping, if nothing else, this will make a senior feel better that we’re on their side and we want to get them vaccinated,” said Margaret Irwin, the elder director of the ERNC. “If they’re having trouble getting a vaccination, we have many able, compassionate people in Eagle Rock who are right now willing to help.”
Both the ERNC and the East Area Progressive Democrats have also had discussions with elected and health officials about ways to deliver the vaccine to people who do not drive. Alternative delivery options include pop-up vaccine sites that take walk-ins or in-home delivery of the vaccine to seniors.
However, scaling up those alternative delivery methods will require a bigger supply of vaccine. Currently, the county does not currently have enough vaccine to inoculate all who qualify.
“We have to be patient,” Irwin said.
In the meantime, efforts to educate the public and streamline delivery will ensure that communities are ready and willing to get their vaccines once the supply is available.
To recap, here’s how to access help with vaccination:
Senior citizens in Northeast Los Angeles can get help registering for a vaccination appointment by leaving a voicemail at 323-435-3850 or emailing Margaret Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For COVID-19 updates in both English and Spanish, follow Ilan Shapiro at https://drshaps.com/ or on Twitter @Dr_Shaps.
If you fall within California’s eligibility criterion, you can make an appointment through vaccinatelacounty.com. If you do not have a computer, you can book a vaccine appointment through the L.A. City Hotline at 2-1-1 or 833-540-0473, or through the CA.gov hotline at 833-422-4255.
Zach Goodwin, a senior at Occidental College, is a reporter and the Spanish Translation Team coordinator for the NELA Neighborhood Reporting Partnership, a collaboration between the Boulevard Sentinel and The Occidental campus newspaper.
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