Anna Heredia had just finished walking her dog and was heading back into her home on York Street when she overheard two people dressed in bright orange talking about the vaccine to a family passing by. She lingered and listened — and, when the canvassers said educators could get vaccinated starting Wednesday, her ears perked up. Maybe she could get a vaccine.
The art teacher approached the canvassers, who were among the dozen or so volunteers deployed throughout the Mission District on Friday and Saturday by Unidos en Salud, a partnership between UCSF and the Latino Task Force. The goal was to register residents who qualify under the expanded vaccine eligibility group, including teachers, educators, food and agricultural workers, and emergency service workers like cops and firefighters. These new eligibility rules take effect Wednesday.
One of the canvassers and a nursing student, Ysel, took down Heredia’s name and phone number and signed her up promptly, confirming that someone would call Heredia in a few days to set up an appointment that upcoming week, most likely at the Unidos en Salud and Department of Public Health vaccination site at 24th and Capp streets.
“I am so happy you guys are going door to door,” said Heredia. “Me and my friends have been confused where to get it, and it seems like you have to advocate for yourself.”
Midway into their shift, Ysel and her coworker Vlade had already climbed scores of stairs, conversed with apartment dwellers through open windows, and helped an elderly Latina who had locked her keys in her car (and then registered her elderly husband). They registered about 15 people, including a 91-year-old who was unable to get an appointment elsewhere. Most people who opened the doors were surprised that they were offered a vaccine so soon. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to open the door and say they were not eligible for inoculation, and learn only seconds later that they would be.
“There’s so many avenues and ways to get the vaccine, but it can be confusing,” one teacher told Ysel, who was astonished he could get a shot on Wednesday. “This is really helpful.”
The effort was specifically geared toward the Mission, which has consistently been one of San Francisco’s hardest-hit neighborhoods during Covid-19. This has prompted multiple Covid-19 testing efforts and the vaccination site.
Organizers also felt it was important to canvas among the neighborhood’s restaurant workers. UCSF researchers found early on that low-income essential workers are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to contracting Covid-19, because of their inability to shelter-in-place. The Unidos testing and research campaigns that began in April, 2020, and continue today at the 24th Street BART Plaza have consistently found a high incidence of Covid-19 among low-income frontline workers earning less than $50,000 a year and without health insurance or a primary provider.
“A lot of people were able to protect themselves by sheltering in place and some people were not,” said Diane Jones, a former UCSF HIV nurse and a leader in the Unidos en Salud campaign. “Other people have to go to work because otherwise there’s not any food on the table that night.”
On Saturday, Ysel and Vlade strolled into Taqueria San Francisco, at 2794 24th St., and signed up three of the employees within five minutes. Vidal Candelas, a cook and cashier, said that the visit was a happy surprise. The proximity of the site, too, was a plus. It’s only about half a mile away, so he could visit without missing much work, he said in Spanish.
“I was looking for information about when to get it, knowing if I had the opportunity I would take it. I’m scared of getting sick,” Candelas said. “It’s really important to get for people who are working in the food industry.”
In addition, Susana Rojas, a community outreach leader for the Unidos en Salud campaign, led the effort to contact businesses in the Latino Cultural District and register the workers. About 500 restaurant employees from the Latino Cultural District said they wanted the vaccine, she said.
“We reached out to all of 24th Street and to Mission Street restaurants, fruterias and corner stores,” Rojas told Mission Local. “The people were very excited; only a few people didn’t want it.”
By the end of the weekend, Rafael Gonzalez, a community programs manager at Bridge HIV for the Department of Public Health and the head of Unidos en Salud community mobilization and past weekend’s outreach, said the teams had collected about 450 contacts. Those who weren’t immediately eligible for a vaccine will be added to a wait list, Gonzalez said.
Besides registering people for doses, the outreach volunteers spread information about both the vaccine and testing. Most important, they answered questions.
Yecenia, a Unidos en Salud volunteer, explained to an older Latino gentleman that the government was not trying to inject those who take the vaccine with “something else.” Other volunteers explained eligibility tiers, like when a woman’s partner who has cancer, but is not over 65, can get one. (This starts on March 15, according to the state.) They also told those unfamiliar with the Capp Street site that it was a walk-up and not drive-through, and how to get there.
And, thousands of people received a colorful poster advertising the rapid testing site at 24th and Mission BART Station.
Gonzalez said: “We want to remind folks that it’s still super important to continue getting tested for COVID-19 frequently, and invite those that are currently eligible for vaccination to schedule a vaccination visit at our site on 24th and Capp.”
As Ysel and Vlade continued on York Street, they gave an Asian couple a poster advertising the rapid testing site. The couple promised to come by, and added, “Thank you for the work you’re doing in this community.”