Politician demands reopening of mass vaccination site in East San Jose

With COVID cases on the rise, a local politician is demanding that more be done to help the hard-hit community of East San Jose.

He wants a mass vaccination site to reopen to help the largely Latinx population fend off the Delta variant.

Rolando Bonilla is a San Jose Planning Commissioner and a COVID survivor.

"COVID was the worst experience of my life," he said.

He's afraid that cases are on the rise and that his community in East San Jose is vulnerable.

Bonilla held a news conference on Monday to call for action.

"We can't say we care about being vaccinated and yet close the largest vaccination site in East San Jose. that is completely a mixed message," he said.

The Mexican Heritage Plaza was the mass vaccination site serving East San Jose. But it closed when demand for vaccinations dwindled, as did many other large sites in Santa Clara County.

"In the beginning, we were vaccinating almost 600 people a day. And towards the end, we were fortunate if we could vaccinate even 50 a day," said Dr. Ranjani Chandramouli, medical director at Garner Health Services.

So, Gardner Health, which ran the site for the county, pivoted.

They began directing the community to their clinics down the street through emails and signage. 

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"The main thing is messaging, constant messaging," said Chandramouli.

County officials agreed that reaching the primarily Latinx community there was imperative. Their vaccination rate was about 61.9% as compared to 76% in the community as a whole, though the older the population, the more that gap narrows.

"The real challenge now is to get to the population who is unwilling, uninterested, or a little hesitant. And having mass vaccination sites really doesn't do that. You have to reach into the community," said Jeff Smith, county executive for Santa Clara County.

They're doing outreach door-to-door, using social media and community influencers, pushing pop-up clinics, even setting up outside bars on the weekends.

They said this will more likely have an impact, than a big site that will probably sit empty.

Still, they said, reopening the Mexican Heritage Plaza location is not out of the question.

"The possibility is always on the table. We'll do whatever it takes to get more vaccine into arms," said Smith.

County officials said vaccination is especially important now with the arrival of the Delta variant.

In the last few weeks, Santa Clara County has seen the number of cases triple.