Just two and a half weeks into the emergency use authorization for Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for kids 5 to 11, some local vaccine sites are riding a high wave of demand. Others have limited doses and are seeing more hesitancy, and immigrant parents are experiencing barriers to access.
When adult vaccinations opened, Tracy Gallardo, who serves on the Latino Task Force executive committee, had friends blowing up her phone to get access. That has not happened with the pediatric vaccines.
“We have to message it in a way that encourages parents to use the access of the vaccine to protect their children against covid, and also just to protect them against exposure,” said Gallardo, who is also a legislative aide to District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. “Families know us, they trust us, and we hope their kids trust us.”
To that end, they are arranging town halls and in-person cafecitos with a doctor to answer the questions that parents have. The next Spanish-language cafecito will be held on Nov. 24, and will be announced on the Unidos en Salud/United in Health website.
Maria Lopez at Mission Wellness Pharmacy has seen no hesitancy. “It’s just a mad rush of people who want to get their children vaccinated,” she said. Between the pharmacy and weekend school clinics, Lopez said they have given several thousand pediatric vaccine doses.
Dr. Monique LeSarre, executive director of the Rafiki Coalition for Health and Wellness, which helps to run the San Francisco Department of Health’s Southeast Hub/Bayview neighborhood vaccination site with other community partners, said things are also going well.
“No hesitancy,” she wrote in an email. “The motivation for a lot of youth appears to be because the parent wants it, or the child wants to play sports.”
She said they have vaccinated around 60 kids under 12.
At the 24th and Capp Street site run by the University of California San Francisco, the Latino Task Force, and the SF Department of Health, health care professionals administered 484 pediatric doses from November 6 to 9, and 25.6 percent of recipients were Latinx. Site lead Susana Rojas said they have capacity to give 800 pediatric doses each week (the site is open Saturday to Tuesday, and allows appointments and drop ins).
Citywide, it’s hard to corroborate how things are going. As of Nov. 15, the San Francisco Department of Public Health indicated that just over 12,600, or 29 percent, of the city’s 5-to-11-year-olds had received at least one dose.
But the data is aggregated by only one characteristic at a time, so it is impossible, for example, to cross-reference race and ethnicity with age or income level.
Lopez agreed that low-barrier access was key. She pointed out that people with more access to computers and transportation may more readily fill up appointments and drop in slots.
That leaves families with lower levels of literacy, less internet access, and with less flexible schedules at a disadvantage, especially in heavily immigrant and low-income neighborhoods.
Carla Llewelyn-Vasquez, principal of Spanish-language Mission Education Center, one of San Francisco’s two newcomer schools, serves students who have recently arrived from Central and South America.
Getting a vaccine for their kids is challenging for families, she said: “They don’t know how to navigate the system yet.” She added that it would be beneficial to bring the vaccines directly to the schools that families already turn to for information.
“We’ve got to think of ways to make the access easier for our families, and if that means bringing the vaccines to them that’s what we should be doing,” she said. “I mean this is a crisis!”
The Mission Neighborhood Health Center’s pediatric clinic at 240 Shotwell St. is also intentional about reaching populations that may have more difficulty accessing vaccines.
Lupita Franco, director of communications and marketing, said they are committed to vaccinating 5-to-11-year-olds among the 2,600 Latinx, immigrant, and low-income families they serve, as well as drop-ins, at their upcoming Thursday evening and Sunday morning clinics.
Kids can also get the vaccine during the clinic’s regular hours with a pediatric appointment, and drop-in clients will be encouraged to become patients, said Franco.
Other vaccine sites have also tried to be proactive about access by expanding clinic hours to evenings and weekends for working parents.
In addition to expanding hours, Lopez said Mission Wellness Pharmacy has also been “flier-ing” the neighborhood in Spanish to promote its pediatric-focused vaccine clinic. Her staff speaks English, Spanish and Chinese, and they have three private rooms for vaccinations.
The Latino Task Force’s Alabama Street hub will also begin offering pediatric doses this week, but so far the health department has only promised 20 doses. It will be taking drop-in and appointments for the doses, but Gallardo said appointments don’t always work for their families.
“A lot of our families like to drop in when they have the time,” she said.
Gallardo said the Latino Task Force is working with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to increase its vaccine supply, and they expect some changes by Dec. 2. With more capacity, it will open drop-in dates and work with school partners to register families.
“People need help to navigate the system,” she said. “We just want to make it easy to access. We want these kids vaccinated.”
For citywide vaccination sites accepting appointments or drop-ins for 5-to-11-year-olds, visit https://sf.gov/vaccine-sites.