East Palo Alto City Council member Antonio Lopez (right) volunteers at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto, Calif. on Jan. 30, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the City of East Palo Alto)

Following calls for more equitable vaccine distribution, East Palo Alto seniors and essential workers will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine clinic next Tuesday.

The clinic will be held March 9 at 2160 Euclid Avenue, East Palo Alto from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. A clinic for residents of the Belle Haven neighborhood in Menlo Park will take place March 13 at the Onetta Harris Community Center, 100 Terminal Ave, Menlo Park, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The clinics, which the County of San Mateo announced on Thursday, are a partnership between the county, the Ravenswood Family Health Center, the city of East Palo Alto and the YMCA of Silicon Valley.

Ravenswood CEO Luisa Buada said in a statement that they were thrilled to work with the county to expand vaccine access.

“The majority of our residents are hard-working families in front-line jobs. They are the ones working in our markets and performing other vital jobs and services that keep our community running,” Buada said.

The clinics are open to eligible residents which includes health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, people 65 and older and essential workers in the food and agriculture, education, child care and emergency response sectors. To sign up or get more information, people can call or text (650) 665-0482.

The clinics are aimed to overcome barriers to vaccine access. East Palo Alto has the lowest rate of vaccinations in the county, with 12.6% of East Palo Alto residents vaccinated compared to the countywide rate of 25.6%. Earlier this week, state and city leaders called for increased vaccinations in East Palo Alto.

During a COVID-19 study session hosted by the East Palo Alto City Council Thursday night, Buada said that vaccine clinics can be complex and labor-intensive. Ravenswood has had vaccine clinics in January and February, providing about 2,600 vaccinations so far, and they are prepared to continue vaccinations.

“Nine weeks ago we weren’t doing any vaccines and really didn’t know how it was going to all work and today we feel very confident that we can do mass vaccinations, at about 100 to 125 people an hour safely. And we have signed up many volunteers to do that,” Buada said.

Buada said that the center planned to host additional clinics every Saturday, except on the Saturdays preceding a holiday or four weeks ahead of a holiday.

However, those clinics depend on whether they receive enough supply from the county, which receives its supply from the state.

The county continues to be constrained by the vaccine supply. Deputy County Manager Justin Mates said that the state’s eligibility tiers are not always matched with the supply.

“When there’s a new group announced that doesn’t mean the state has supply to vaccinate that entire group, it just means that those people are now eligible to be vaccinated if the supply is there,” Mates said.

Mates said that the county is aware of the low vaccination rate in East Palo Alto and they recognize that other vaccination events may not have been as accessible to East Palo Alto residents. He encouraged people to check with their health care provider for vaccine updates and to sign up for the county’s notification tool and the state’s MyTurn.ca.gov notification system.

While Mates said the state’s MyTurn system is not yet active for San Mateo County, people should still sign up as the MyTurn system will begin to offer vaccine appointments for San Mateo County residents March 15.

City Clerk and spokesperson Walfred Solorzano also encouraged people to check the city’s social media for updates or sign up for Spanish language updates via the WhatsApp button on Facebook at the handle @CityOfEastPaloAlto.

City and county leaders are also working to address vaccine equity and barriers via the County’s Vaccine Communication Equity Working Group, comprised of more than 100 community partners and leaders.

The group meets weekly and East Palo Alto Councilmember Lisa Gauthier, a member of the group, said that they are working to understand why people might be hesitant to take the vaccine and to address those concerns.

Vice Mayor Ruben Abrica acknowledged that some people may not trust the government but councilmembers could use their reach and networks to encourage people to take the vaccine.

“I think I’ve convinced a few people,” Abrica said. “Now that the vaccine is out there, the more we talk to people we know are doubtful, we start having an impact personally.”

Dr. Anand Chabra, San Mateo County Health COVID-19 mass vaccination section chief, said that having more vaccines available will also make it easier for providers to reach communities.

The state is expected to receive about 380,000 doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, officially known as the Janssen vaccine, which Chabra encouraged people to take when available.

For those who might be concerned about the effectiveness of the Janssen vaccine, Chabra said it was important to note that the Janssen vaccine was tested at a different time than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In addition, unlike Pfizer and Moderna, the Janssen vaccine was tested against COVID-19 variants and provides protection from those as well, Chabra said.

“It’s not really an apples to apples comparison,” Chabra said. “And it [the Janssen vaccine] protects against severe illness resulting in hospitalization and it was 100% effective against dying from COVID so that’s the most important thing that we’re trying to protect against for everybody.”

Chabra reminded people that taking the vaccine may come with some side effect such as a sore arm, fever, fatigue or muscle aches which should resolve within a couple days.

As to whether people can still transmit the virus after being fully vaccinated, Chabra said there isn’t enough research to answer that question.

Even if vaccinated, people should continue taking the COVID-19 precautions of washing hands, wearing a face mask, social distancing and avoiding gatherings.

As of Thursday, 164,388 San Mateo County residents have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Information about vaccination in San Mateo County, including a link to sign up for the county’s notification tool, is available at https://www.smchealth.org/covidvaccine.

A video on vaccine safety and equity is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tS5PmpYn_U. The video features San Mateo County Health Equity Officer Shireen Malekafzali and Mills-Peninsula Medical Center Emergency Department physician Leroy Sims.