San Joaquin County still faces major challenges in COVID-19 issues, as the increasing diversity in its area makes it rank 31st out of 58 with the number of adults who have completed primary vaccination against the disease.
San Joaquin County is one of the smallest counties in terms of area in the state of California, however, it is also one of the most populated with a population of approximately 970,000 people, in addition to having a great cultural diversity, as approximately 30 languages are spoken in its territory.
In addition to being one of the most culturally diverse counties, it has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates compared to other rural areas of the state, with 2,270 deaths.
Dr. Maggie Park, San Joaquin County Public Health Officer, commented at an informational panel hosted by Ethnic Media Services that "diversity has been a challenge" due to the fact that in this county there are different populations that the health campaigns must reach.
The fifth wave of COVID-19 has affected thousands of people, leaving 187,934 confirmed cases -in this county- with the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as of July 28 of this year. However, Park pointed out that "the number is much higher because here we are only counting the people who have had a PCR test in laboratories", so this figure does not include those who have it done at home.
In San Joaquin County, only 65.6 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, due to the fact that the area is mostly inhabited by agricultural workers, which has made it difficult for the community to receive the inoculation, so authorities have sought ways to increase these numbers through campaigns and events.
"San Joaquin County is working class and has limited access to health services," said Jose Rodriguez, president of El Concilio, a California non-profit organization that supports marginalized, minority and low-income communities, who also commented that from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic they knew that the Latino community would be one of the most affected by the disease.
Rodriguez also pointed out that one of the strategies that has worked best in this area has been to take the vaccination and health campaigns to the communities, because in his words "for people to participate we have to go to where they are instead of waiting for them to come to the vaccination center".
Language, one of the major barriers for the communities
Language, information and technology barriers have been one of the reasons why vaccination rates in this California county have been so low, as Kevin Sunga, Little Manila Rising Health Director, commented that these resources "are not enough for them to access."
In addition, he highlighted that the information on the COVID-19 vaccine is not in sufficient languages for the communities, as there is no information translated into the dialects that some of the county's inhabitants speak.
He also pointed out that part of the population in this area does not have access to a cell phone or the Internet, making it more difficult to obtain information and make an appointment for inoculation.
HengSothea Ung, program director of Apsara - serving Cambodian refugees - pointed out that the websites to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine or obtain information are not in languages sufficient for the diversity that exists in the area, because although it is available in English, Spanish and Korean, they do not consider those who speak Cambodian or another language, so there is a lot of misinformation.
"People who don't speak English can't access the truth, can't know what the real information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the California Department of Public Health - CDC and CDPH," HengSothea said.
Myths hinder vaccination
Misinformation has been one of the biggest problems in relation to COVID-19, as the various social networks have contributed to the dissemination of myths that cause fear in those who are thinking of receiving the inoculation.
"We have seen that social networks play an equal role in informing and misinforming the population," Sunga pointed out.
Infertility, cancer, chips, heart problems, effects on pregnant women, effectiveness and even spiritual and religious issues have deterred a large part of the population from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and although the CDC and various organizations have launched campaigns to combat misinformation, there are those who do not have access to it.
José Rodríguez commented that one of the priorities is also to inform and educate the population, so that they can make an informed decision about the vaccine, as people decide not to receive the inoculation out of fear.
Call for attention to homeless people
Zonnie Thomson, community organizer for Faith in the Valley in Stockton, commented that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the problem of homelessness in the U.S. has increased and most of this vulnerable population has no access to medical services, so these communities were among the hardest hit by the SARS-CoV-2 disease.
"I have had COVID-19 5 times, 3 times when I was homeless" stated Nick Worrell, who until some time ago was homeless.
He commented that one of the many difficulties that this vulnerable population faces is the possibility of accessing inoculation and boosters, since many times they do not have proof that they have already received the first dose.
"When you don't have a home, it's hard to keep a piece of paper, something to prove that we have the vaccine," he said.
In this sense, Worrell called on the authorities and organizations to seek solutions for this community, since many of the people who live on the streets do not have easy access to vaccination campaigns because they are sometimes very far from where they live, so he pointed out that one option could be to take the campaigns to the camps.
In this regard, Thomson noted that the number of homeless people in San Joaquin is very high, yet there have not been many efforts to bring vaccination campaigns to these communities. "I've seen only one effort in 2021, since then I haven't seen any other follow-up," he said.
"They need protection from extreme temperatures, they have a lot of mental health issues, they can't access different resources, they deal with very high prices to buy food or water" he stated.
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