A nurse prepares Sonny Mai’s first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Aloha Roller Rink vaccination site in San Jose, Calif. on March 5, 2021. Mai is from Milpitas. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

The “most fun vaccine site in all of California” opened on Friday in San Jose at the Aloha Roller Rink.

One of the last roller rinks in the Bay Area, at the Eastridge Mall, will now serve as Santa Clara County’s sixth mass vaccination site with the capacity to inoculate 2,000 people per day.

The clinic is located in one of the county’s COVID-19 hot spots. Its ZIP code, 95122, has one of the highest rates in the county, with more than 13,000 cases per 100,000 residents.
“95122 is about the same size and in terms of population as a city of Gilroy. That’s how dense it is. That’s how overcrowded it is,” San Jose City Councilwoman Maya Esparza, who represents the East Side said. “But it’s a lively community and it’s a community also that has been struggling and COVID infection, death rates, poverty and crime.”

That’s why she, along with other local leaders, say Eastridge is a convenient, well known and central location to effectively reach communities hardest hit.

And already, on its first day of opening, more than 100 community members lined up to receive the vaccine.

Milpitas resident Sonny Mai said he waited in line for three hours to get his first dose of the vaccine at the roller rink on Friday.

“This is the second site I went to today,” said Mai, who works as a translator at an Oakland hospital.

He woke up early to get to a walk-in site on King Road at 8 a.m. but by the time he got there, the site was at capacity. Staff at that site directed him to the newly opened roller rink vaccination site instead.

He arrived at 9 a.m. to Aloha Roller Rink and sat down to get his shot at 12 p.m.

“I have been waiting for a long time,” Mai said. “But this is so worth it. I am so excited.”

The new mass vaccination site will serve as a walk-in site for the time being, with the capacity to serve 500 individuals per day.

In the coming weeks it will continue to build capacity and begin to offer appointments, especially for folks returning to get their second dose of the vaccine, in addition to walk in services.

The vaccination site was opened through a collaboration between the county, Stanford Health Care and Aloha Roller Rink owner Liz Ruiz ― a partnership county Supervisor Cindy Chavez touted as a big success.

But she cautioned that it does not solve all the county’s problems.

Local leaders said Santa Clara County is in a “vaccine supply crisis,” meaning there is sufficient capacity to provide vaccines, there is an overwhelming demand, but the state is not allocating enough vaccines to the county ― and East San Jose in particular.

This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated 40% of vaccinations to be distributed to the state’s lowest-income residents. Ten Bay Area ZIP codes were identified, but none in Santa Clara County or East San Jose.

“So that means less for this zip code and we need our allocations,” Esparza said. “You can see our people want this vaccine. They’ve been waiting in line for two hours just for the chance to get a vaccine.”

Chavez said in three weeks the county will have the capacity to inoculate 125,000 people a week but won’t be able to do so if vaccine allocation does not match.

“We need the state to treat all of us fairly, and to make sure that as they’re asking us to expand this infrastructure that they’re getting us the vaccines that we need,” Chavez said.

This week, officials said Santa Clara County received less vaccine than expected, despite 7,500 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine allocated to the county.

The reduced allotment did not result in canceled vaccination appointments, testing and vaccination officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said, but it’s impacting how many appointments slots the county can now offer in the coming weeks.

For the week of March 7 through March 13, appointments are fully booked, and the county cannot make any more available, “due to a low allocation of vaccine from the state,” officials said.

Still, for some there is hope on the horizon. The county has vaccinated more than 20% of its 16 and older population and more than half of its 65 years and older population.

On March 15, eligibility will also expand so that those with at least one severe health condition can get inoculated.

And Fenstersheib noted that the federal government promised to get enough vaccine for everyone by May.

And as more vaccine is offered, more immunity is built in the community, allowing for things to slowly go back to normal.

“I recognize this: the more that we help you guys get to your vaccine levels that we need, then the sooner we will get to that yellow tier and I will be able to open again,” Aloha Roller Rink owner Liz Ruiz said. “It has been hard, but I am so glad to be able to have this opportunity to continue serving (the community).”

The Aloha Roller Rink will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will offer vaccines to those eligible: health care workers, residents 65 and older as well as workers in education, food and agriculture, childcare and emergency services.

To find additional vaccination sites or to schedule a vaccination appointment with the county, visit sccfreetest.org or call 211.