See update at the bottom of this post: 132 people were vaccinated on Monday.
With the smell of burning sage in the air, the city’s first community vaccination site opened today at 9 a.m. in the heart of the Mission District, just off 24th and Mission streets in a rectangular, fenced-in parking lot cleared of cars, planted with four large white tents and staffed with technicians and nurses ready to vaccinate in a community that has had some of the city’s highest rates of Covid-19.
The opening was a triumph for UCSF and the Latino Task Force, as well as the Department of Public Health, which will eventually take over the site and open more of them in other impacted communities, including Bayview, according to DPH.
After a soft launch this week offering only 120 vaccines a day, the Mission site will run four days a week — Sunday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. — and, depending on supplies, may ramp up to as many as 400 vaccines a day. Across the street at the BART Plaza, the Unidos en Salud coalition will continue to run rapid Covid-19 testing during the same hours. It will resume again on Wednesday.
Dr. Diane Havlir, professor of medicine at UCSF and a co-founder of Unidos en Salud, the partnership between UCSF and the Latino Task Force that has been running testing and research studies in the Mission since mid-April, wrote early this morning that taking this step made her feel “hopeful — that with partnerships we can accelerate vaccine access. And hopeful, when supply increases, that we will be ready.”
“It’s surreal,” said Jon Jacobo, the head of the Latino Task Force, as he walked up to the site an hour before the first person would be vaccinated. “Seeing it. Wow. This is huge. A milestone. One that happened only because of trust in all the partners, the community, UCSF and the city; trust in a community-led effort.”
An hour later, he was burning sage and greeting community health workers with the exuberance of a kid on Christmas morning.
Throughout the early morning, the volunteers, doctors and technicians who have been involved with the Unidos en Salud campaigns from the beginning entered the site to attend to last-minute details. “I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Chesa Cox from UCSF as she hung out the sign announcing the vaccinations.
Doctors Havlir and Carina Marquez, who typically dress in jeans and puffy vests or jackets, arrived in skirts and heels, ready for the arrival later in the morning of Mayor London Breed and Director of Public Health Grant Colfax. Diane Jones, a retired HIV nurse and leader in the effort, bicycled up, and others, like Susana and Susy Rojas, arrived on foot.
“It’s just really exciting to get to this point,” said Marquez. James Peng, from UCSF, who has also been involved since April, agreed. It’s what they have been waiting for, he said.
Early on, Unidos en Salud’s studies offered clues as to the nature of the virus and the reasons why the Latinx population accounted for so many of the city’s cases: many of the carriers were asymptomatic, unable to shelter in place and often lived in crowded conditions where the virus was easily transmitted.
These attributes translated into an epidemic in the Latinx population, which represents only 15 percent of the city’s population but has accounted for anywhere from 42 to 50 percent of total San Francisco cases over the course of the pandemic.
Testing working-class Latinx residents has been at the forefront of the Unidos en Salud coalition for the last year, and today’s vaccination site has been in the works for weeks, requiring the fundraising might of UCSF and the Latino Task Force, more vaccine supply, permitting, and orchestration from DPH.
“We’re going to do this,” Jacobo said on a recent Thursday as he got on a call to help raise money.
And they did.
As Jacobo, Havlir and UCSF Chancellor Dr. Sam Hawgood facilitated efforts over numerous phone calls, donors stepped up. They include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the McKinnon Family Foundation, Carl Kawaja and Wendy Holcombe, and donors to the UCSF COVID-19 Response Fund and the Unidos en Salud/United in Health San Francisco Project.
“By continuing our collaborative community testing programs, and now making vaccines available in high-impact neighborhoods where the virus is spreading quickly, we can prevent more suffering and help to protect the entire city from this virus,” Hawgood said in a news release about the effort.
Already, Havlir added, they knew from a recent survey of more than 6,000 people that the hard-to-reach Latinx residents they were testing for Covid-19 were anxious for a vaccine.
This week, the site will get off to a slow start, first vaccinating — by appointment — mostly community healthcare workers Monday and Tuesday. Then shots will also open up to seniors 65 or older and most of those appointment slots will go to people who are eligible and who have been contacted by the Unidos campaign.
Read reactions to getting tested today
Already, the coalition is notifying residents from its database of people they have tested who are 65 years and older. That database includes some 30,000 people and 55 percent of those do not have health insurance; another 10 percent who have health insurance are not connected to a provider.
If you have not been tested during a Unidos testing campaign and are eligible for a vaccination, you can show up at the vaccination site and register at the information desk for an appointment. Vaccines are limited so these appointments are meant for those without a health provider.
The Unidos campaign will follow the state’s guidelines on who can be tested, but it will be able to draw from its database to test those unable to go through private insurers.
Critical to the UCSF/Latino Task Force testing and research campaigns has been their ability to provide low-barrier, walk-up testing, so operating as an appointment site had everyone “hyperventilating,” said Jones, the former UCSF nurse.
To ensure access, the team has a table set up to help the eligible — for now, healthcare workers and those over 65 — to register for an appointment in person. That need was visible on Monday morning before the site opened as an older gentleman walking with a cane approached the table. He had been notified that he could go online and register, but he could not navigate the online process.
“This is the perfect example of why this is needed,” said Jones.
And, just after the site opened up, seven people were in line trying to get on the list for vaccinations. Others, who already had appointments, waited quietly along the fence.
Two tents are set up with multiple chairs for vaccinations. This week, the site is using the Moderna vaccination and giving those who get it an appointment for the second dose.
“My dream is eventually that people can come and get tested (at the 24th BART Plaza) and go across the street and get vaccinated. If they are positive, they go into the response arm, they get support during isolation. And, when they are safe, we move them into the vaccination arm.”
Mayor London Breed and Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of public health, are expected to visit the site at 10:30 a.m. Breed said in a press release, “This vaccination site represents an important step forward in providing convenient, culturally competent vaccine access to the Mission District.”
Added Colfax: “As a community-based site co-located with existing testing capacity, the 24th Street site is a model for how we can reach every community in San Francisco.”
Jonathan Fuchs, who is in charge of the DPH testing strategy, said the city is in “active collaboration” with partners in Bayview to determine a fixed vaccination site there. In the meantime, he said, community clinics offer vaccines and will notify patients who are eligible.
“We’re incredibly excited. This is a milestone,” Fuchs said. “But vaccine supply is incredibly limited. We need to make sure that the infrastructure is in place and can support this site and those in the future.” The Bayview, he added, is also at the center of the pandemic.
And there too a site is likely to be greeted with the same enthusiasm Mission residents displayed at the opening of today’s site.
“It’s by the people, for the people,” said Norma Ruiz, who works for Mission Girls and volunteers at the Latino Task Force’s Hub. She arrived today to put her name on a list for a vaccine. “It’s great having it accessible to our community.”
Update: By the end of the day, Unidos en Salud had vaccinated 132 people, community health workers and seniors over 65. “The line of people waiting to find out if they were eligible under current state guidelines was half way down Capp Street all day. Most people were put on a wait list because they don’t qualify. Some were given next day appointments and some got same day vaccine,” Jones wrote in an email. “Today was a good day.”