Juana Guevara, 82, just received her first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Clinica Monseñor Romero in Boyle Heights.

For more than a week, Iliana Guevara tried unsuccessfully to get her mother-in-law an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination at any of the “mega” sites set up around Los Angeles. People have been coming from all over the county to get the vaccine.

“Dodger Stadium, Santa Clarita, I was trying everywhere,” the Van Nuys resident said.

But the spaces at those sites were filled quickly, and the online process to secure a space also proved difficult.

This could prevent Latinos — especially immigrants with limited access to technology or know-how — from getting access to vaccines, according to Carlos Vaquerano, executive director of Clinica Monseñor Romero, a nonprofit community clinic with sites in Pico-Union and Boyle Heights.

Clinica Monseñor Romero held a vaccination clinic for 100 of its senior patients on Saturday, Feb. 6, after receiving its first allotment of Moderna vaccines.

“Our people face a lot of limitations. Our seniors don’t have access to the internet, computers or don’t know how to make an appointment at the megacenters,” Vaquerano said.

And many of them don’t have access to a car, either.That was another obstacle for Iliana Guevara’s mother-in-law. After Juana Guevara was told she would be one of the first patients at Clinica Romero to receive a Moderna vaccine, her daughter-in-law rushed over early on Saturday to pick Juana up and take her to Boyle Heights.

“Better to prevent than to lament,” Iliana said, very happy her mother-in-law got the first dose. Juana has to return in 28 days to receive the second dose to have the maximum protection against a virus, which to date has already claimed the lives of more than 18,000 county residents — nearly 9,000 of them Latinos.

Low Vaccination Rate

Overall, COVID-19 has infected over 1.1 million people in the county, more than half of them being Latino. Those numbers could rise as more people are tested. Another problem is those with autoimmune conditions have not been prioritized nor have those who work at jobs on the frontlines or at the lowest rungs of employment and must work outside of their homes. Many elderly Latinos still work, and many have pre-existing conditions. 

 Yet, as a group, Latinos have received only 25% of the 1.05 million doses of the vaccine administered in the county, according to the Department of Public Health. The number is much less when only looking at residents aged 65 and over who are eligible to receive the shots.

“In the Latinx community, which has experienced the highest cases, hospitalizations and death rates, only 14% of Latinx residents (aged 65 and older) have been vaccinated to date,” said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

Ferrer promised the department will work with community partners to speed vaccinations and provide easier access to neighborhood sites.

For her part, Juana Guevara, 82, said she “feels good” after getting her first shot. She admitted being a little nervous about the “pinch,” but noted the person who administered the vaccine “had a soft hand.”

“We’re happy, hopeful,” said Iliana of the vaccine that she hopes will protect her mother-in-law. She also hopes this allows them to get together as a family after nearly a year of “being shut-in.”

“She hasn’t seen her grandkids to avoid any infection,” Iliana said.

The San Fernando Valley has at least five vaccination sites (http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/vaccine/index.htm), including California State University Northridge (CSUN), the Ritchie Valens Recreation Center in Pacoima and Hansen Dam in Lake View Terrace, the Balboa Sports Complex in Encino and San Fernando Recreation Park in the City of San Fernando. But demand is still very high.

Some 100 CVS pharmacies will begin administering 81,900 doses starting today, Feb. 11, but none of those sites are in the Valley.

For now, those eligible to receive the vaccine include health care workers and people age 65 and older. Many hope the number of pharmacies being able to give the shots expand in the near future, as well as those eligible to get them.

Stay Protected

Even if you are vaccinated, it doesn’t mean you can start a totally “normal” life, warns Dr. Kimberly Shriner of Huntington Hospital in Pasadena.

“Getting the vaccine does not mean you can take your mask off and roll in COVID,” she cautions. “It’s important you continue to be careful. There’s a possibility you can still transmit infection, especially with the variants we’re seeing.”

For those weary of getting the vaccine or don’t believe they need it, Shriner warns “this is a very, very serious virus, especially for people who are older.”

And to those concerned about adverse reactions from the shots, the doctor said the vaccines have a track record of being safe.

“The risk from the vaccine is very small and the benefits outweigh the dangers,” she said.

Large studies done on the vaccines available on the market have also shown very few adverse reactions.

“This is going to save your life. Get the vaccine,” Shriner emphasized.

Tortillas, Tomatoes and a COVID Test

Just as important as getting the vaccine is to continue being tested if you believe you’re at risk of contracting the virus.

To help in this effort, the county Department of Health Services is providing free COVID-19 tests at the Vallarta Supermarket  located at 10175 San Fernando Road in Pacoima, one of the Valley communities most impacted by contagions.

The tests will be administered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, for the next three months. You must make an appointment at covid19.lacounty.gov/testing (https://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/)

“I’m grateful to Vallarta Supermarkets for making certain that tests will be more easily available to residents of our most impacted San Fernando Valley communities,” said County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

“All tests are free. If you test positive, the best thing to do for you, your family and your community is to quarantine yourself for 10 days. That’s the way we can stop this virus in its tracks and end the tragic loss of life, especially in our Latino communities.”

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