A VTA Driver assists Robinson Mangaoang take his father, Ferdinand Mangaoang to his vaccine appointment at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose, Calif on April 26, 2021.(Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

Santa Clara County, through a partnership with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, is offering free roundtrip rides to vaccine appointments for isolated seniors and those with disabilities.

The new transportation service, launched last week, is the county’s latest effort to remove barriers and make vaccination easier for all residents.

Through this program, a driver picks up a qualifying resident, and a caregiver if desired, from their house, takes them to their appointment and waits at the site until the resident is done so they can get a ride back home.

“It’s really helped us a lot,” county resident Robinson Mangaoang said.

Mangaoang is the caregiver of his 63-year-old father Ferdinand Mangaoang who became bed-ridden after suffering from multiple strokes.

On Monday, both Robinson and his father used the new roundtrip service so Ferdinand could get his first dose of the vaccine at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds site.

The VTA driver and Robinson helped Ferdinand get off the bus on the bus ramp all while he stayed laying down with his oxygen tank connected.

“I’m hoping that all the people that would need this help try to get a ride for them,” Robinson Mangaoang said.

Though the roundtrip program focuses on isolated seniors and disabled residents, really, the main qualification is that one struggles with mobility and access to a vaccination site.

“I don’t want to say how disabled you have to be because I don’t want to discourage people from calling who need access to the service,” county Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. “If you are having a difficult time, and you don’t have an easy way to get to a vaccination clinic…we want you to call.”

Chavez said even if they do not qualify for the new roundtrip program, the county will help residents find a way to get to their appointment.

This could mean using Paratransit, utilizing the free bus and lightrail rides for those going to a vaccine appointment or even a homebound visit for those unable to leave their home.

The already running Paratransit service is similar to the roundtrip program in that it offers one-on-one rides, but it operates on a reservation basis for each way and will not wait at the site.

The new roundtrip program has 10 VTA Access buses set aside with the capacity to take 50 people to their vaccine appointment per day.

And if the need proves to be greater, the VTA already has a partnership with a private taxi company on standby to increase capacity.

“We really want people to take advantage of this,” VTA spokesperson Stacey Hendler Ross said. “We want them to know that it’s easy to do.”

And it is really quite simple. To use the free roundtrip transportation services, one must have a vaccine appointment scheduled and just needs to call (408) 809-2124.

From there, county staff will help coordinate rides and appropriate services.

Those who struggle to make a vaccination appointment can call 211 for support in multiple languages.

Residents can book an appointment at any site and at any time. The new roundtrip service operates seven days a week throughout the county.

Chavez also noted that almost every vaccine site in the county has appointments available and encouraged the remaining roughly 40 percent of the non-vaccinated population over 16 years old to book an appointment as soon as possible.

Because of the county’s “open door policy,” county residents can get vaccinated at any site and through any provider regardless of their insurance, or lack thereof.

To learn more about vaccine safety or to book an appointment, visit www.sccfreevax.org or call 211.