A health care worker draws a dose of coronavirus vaccine. (Photo via Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Latinx seniors in Santa Clara County are the most at-risk community from COVID-19 but the least vaccinated, so local leaders are asking for community help.

On Thursday, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Gardner Health Services CEO Reymundo Espinoza held a virtual briefing encouraging residents to volunteer and help inform and assist residents eligible for the vaccine.

Spanish-speaking volunteers would be the most needed, Liccardo said, so that they could communicate effectively with the Latinx community.

Of the roughly 144,000 vaccinated residents 65 years and older, Latinx people make up about 12,000 or 8 percent, the mayor noted. However, Latinx people make up 51 percent of COVID-19 cases and 28 percent of deaths.

County data also shows that of residents 65 years and older, only 25 percent of the Latinx population has been vaccinated as opposed to 50 percent of the Asian population and 38 percent of the white population.

Espinoza noted that the reason for the disparity is likely because of misconceptions of vaccine safety or fear of side effects.

“Other things that we’ve heard is difficulty registering for appointments, mobility issues like weather,” Espinoza said. “And I think a historical fear and the distrust of government.”

Chavez worried the reason for the inequity is not fear of vaccine, but rather lack of access.

“There is no cookie-cutter approach when trying to vaccinate a population as economically and culturally diverse as we have in Santa Clara County,” said Chavez.

That means relying on large private health care providers or waiting for residents to book appointments through the county website is not enough.

“We must have mass vaccination centers in large urban areas hard hit by coronavirus and we must go directly to the residents of diverse, disproportionately COVID-infected communities with pop-up vaccinations tents and mobile units,” Chavez said.

But regardless of the reason Latinx seniors are not getting vaccinated, the local officials on the call all agreed: “we need volunteers.”

“We particularly need volunteers who speak Spanish and other languages, who can help us in outreach and to ensure that we are getting information to everyone,” Liccardo said. “So that they can make good decisions and hopefully, so that they can be vaccinated, to protect themselves and their families.”

But anyone who speaks a different language like Vietnamese, or is simply eager to help, is wanted.

Volunteers could do anything from door-to-door outreach, phone calls, staff vaccination sites or help distribute food.

“We’re needing people to get online and be able to talk to their neighbors to get them to come because they want to talk to trusted folks,” Chavez said.

Throughout the pandemic, Liccardo said the city has relied on more than 40,000 volunteers to help in a plethora of ways like directing traffic at testing sites or packing at food banks.

Mass and equitable vaccination is another task that requires community support, he noted, especially as vaccine eligibility expands at the end of the month.

Starting Feb. 28, workers in education and childcare, emergency services, and the food and agriculture industries can get vaccinated.

On March 15, those with at least one severe health condition will also be eligible for the vaccine, at the directive of the state. Health conditions include cancer, stage four or higher kidney disease, pulmonary diseases necessitating oxygen, Down syndrome, a weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart conditions like coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathies.

The county has already opened several pop-up and mobile sites around the county and particularly in East San Jose and Gilroy, which have been COVID-19 hot spots.

On Wednesday, a pop-up site at the Gilroy Senior Center opened.

In recent weeks, the county also opened two drop-in sites in San Jose that do not require appointments.

The first is Public Health Story Road Hub at 1775 Story Road: open Wednesday through Friday. Sign-ups start at 9:30 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.

The second site is the Mexican Heritage Plaza at 1700 Alum Rock Ave., which is open Tuesday through Thursday. Sign-ups start at 9 a.m. also on a first-come, first-served basis and vaccinations are given from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

“Vaccination provides the only viable route for us to get to the other side of this pandemic,” said Liccardo. “And we can all play a role in helping our community get access to safe and effective vaccines.”

Those interested in volunteering can sign up at SiliconValleyStrong.org.

For more information on vaccines or to make an appointment, visit sccfreevax.org or call 211.