This morning, the lines outside the labor union’s office at 18th and Shotwell streets will not be filled with workers looking for jobs, but workers and residents waiting for appointments or a shot in the arm that will free them from the tyranny of Covid-19.
The vaccination site at Local 261 headquarters, at 3271 18th St., will be the fourth site to open in the Mission District, a neighborhood where residents can now walk up and make a vaccination appointment on any day of the week. The Shotwell site opens just as the city is also expanding vaccinations to anyone 16 and older.
At present, all available appointments are filled until Saturday. The site will initially offer 200 doses a day and plans to ramp up to 300 a day by Saturday. “Then we’ll see,” said Diane Jones, a retired HIV nurse and leader in the vaccination effort.
To prepare for today’s opening, Valerie Tulier-Laiwa, who is on the executive committee of the Latino Task Force, arrived Wednesday afternoon for a walk-through with the onsite team that had been working for hours. She had plenty of questions.
Was it smart to have two lines going to the same door? she asked. Would it be better to have the registration line and an appointment line leading to different doors? Once someone was ready for a shot, who would lead them to one of nine stations? It was clear that, by this morning, any issues would be addressed.
The site represents a major collaboration between the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the Latino Task Force, a relationship that has been no overnight romance, but instead a guarded dance — filled with frustrations, seeming resistance, lost opportunities and now promise.
“This has been one of the most rewarding, important and impactful collaborations of my professional career,” said Dr. Diane Havlir, UCSF professor of medicine. “It takes a community to overcome a pandemic — and that is what we see here.”
The health department’s experience with the Latino Task Force, Director of Public Health Grant Colfax said on Wednesday, “helped us be more responsive and learning with LTF and other community stakeholders to provide low barrier access in addition to the mass sites.”
Colfax added that it “took some time” to scale up, “but we have gotten there.”
The relationship with the Health Department was “obviously” not ideal at the beginning, said Susana Rojas, who has been key in community outreach in the Latino Task Force’s collaborations with UCSF. But at some point, she added, Colfax “got it.” Team members can easily reach him and he too will call on them, she said.
The planning for the site has been in the works since early this year.
Already the Latino Task Force and UCSF — an alliance known as Unidos en Salud — have vaccinated over 10,000 predominantly Latinx and Mission residents since February when the collaborators opened a first vaccination site at 24th and Capp Streets. It is open Sunday through Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is now vaccinating 500 residents a day. The Department of Public Health is also collaborating on that site.
The Shotwell site will be open Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Appointments can be made in person at 24th and Mission Wednesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or at 701 Alabama St. on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Mission neighborhood residents and workers can email LatinoTaskForceSF@gmail.com to request an appointment.
Check out our Vaccine/Vacuna page to find out where you can get walk up appointments.
With a land blessing and burning sage — now a tradition in opening new community health sites in the Mission — the walk-up vaccine site outside Local 261 launched Thursday.
The women of the Latino Task Force honored the earth, indigenous peoples, the ancestors and the stars. Tulier-Laiwa led the crowd through a series of blessings to each of the four cardinal directions. Then, idigenous people sang music and drummed in celebration, and Aztec dancers performed for the crowd.
“We operate from a place of respect and love, and the community is allowing us to be here,” Tulier-Laiwa said.
Organizers and those staffing the site were excited on the morning of opening day, though some were worried about vaccine hesitancy in the Latinx community.
Ramon Hernandez, the business manager at Local 261, said he hopes the site will eventually be able to double the amount of vaccines that it offers. He wants to get as many people vaccinated as possible: “If we have to be open 24/7, I don’t care,” he said.
Based on conversations with his construction union, which has over 5,000 members, Hernandez is worried that there are still too many Latinx residents reluctant to get vaccinated.
“Some of them still believe they can do something about their own body later, that the government is going to be watching them, that there are bad side effects or that they’re going to be walking like zombies,” he said.
The Tuesday decision by federal health agencies to pause the use of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to review six reported cases of blood clots may further complicate efforts to foster vaccine trust. The Shotwell site is following the government’s recommendation and is not administering the J&J shot; a decision on the matter is expected from the government in a week or two.
“These are still incredibly rare events, and the safety profile of vaccines is excellent,” said Dr. Jonathan Fuchs, a UCSF professor of medicine and member of the Latino Task Force.
The J&J pause is not expected to significantly affect San Francisco’s ability to administer vaccines, as J&J makes up only about 4 percent of the state’s total supply. But decreases in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could stall the city’s vaccine efforts: Colfax estimated Thursday that supplies of those two vaccines could drop by one-third.
The city is currently vaccinating 12,000 people a day, but has the capacity to vaccinate 20,000, according to Mayor London Breed. In May, the city anticipates that supply could increase significantly, something that city officials will welcome.
Update, 2 p.m.:
Around 11:30 a.m., vaccine recipients were surprised to run into city leaders at the site: Mayor London Breed, city health director Grant Colfax and District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen all made an appearance.
Breed said that when she met with the Latino Task Force and heard the stories of Latinx people impacted by the pandemic, she was heartbroken. “I thought our programs were enough, but we were wrong,” Breed said.
“I can’t help but be excited about the future,” she added, encouraging those in the Mission to have tough conversations with and educate their loved ones about vaccination. “The chances of dying from the vaccine are slim to none, and the chances of dying from Covid are higher.”
Colfax also alluded to difficult conversations between the Latino Task Force and the Department of Public Health, a relationship that has evolved during the course of the pandemic and is now at its strongest, according to him: “It took some difficult conversations and Zoom calls, but here we are,” Colfax told the crowd.
Those who came to the site to get vaccinated said the shot in their arm was a relief. Most at the site were in their 40s, made newly eligible on Thursday after vaccine access was expanded to those between the ages of 16 and 50.
“We are on our way to beating this disease,” Ronen said. She got her first shot on Monday at the site at 24th and Capp streets, and said jokingly that she had “never been so happy to be the only white person” in the room.
Elliot Ortiz, 37, was vaccinated on Thursday. He said he can’t wait to hang out with his friends indoors and play board games now: “I have been super stressed [about Covid] — it’s amazing,” he said.
And increased vaccination rates in the Mission will help protect everyone, not just those who receive a shot.
“I feel more secure and more content now that people can come here to get vaccinated,” said Alejandra Dominguez, 44, in Spanish, who is responsible for cleaning the union building five days a week.