State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, on Monday urged California health officials to expand vaccine eligibility in San Mateo County's vulnerable communities ahead of April 15.
In a news release, Becker requested that the state allow vaccinations for all residents 16 and older in communities like East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks, which have had higher infection rates and lower vaccination rates compared to the rest of San Mateo County. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated, Becker said.
While the state plans to expand eligibility to allow all adults 16 and older to receive the vaccine starting April 15, Becker wants that expansion to happen earlier in hard-hit communities so that vulnerable residents can get vaccinated ahead of the expected rush.
"Communities like East Palo Alto are home to large numbers of essential frontline workers who have heroically stepped up and supported all of us through the entire pandemic but remain largely unvaccinated," Becker said in a statement.
Vaccination rates in East Palo Alto continue to lag behind the average in San Mateo County. As of Thursday, 23.8% of eligible East Palo Alto residents have been vaccinated so far compared to 44.2% countywide.
In terms of infection rates, East Palo Alto represents about 4% of the population in San Mateo County but has had 10% of COVID-19 cases overall. In the last 30 days, 8% of the county's cases were in East Palo Alto, according to county data updated last Friday.
In San Mateo County, residents eligible for the vaccine include health care workers, residents 65 and older and essential workers in the education, child care, food and agriculture and emergency response sectors.
The county is also vaccinating people experiencing homelessness and jail inmates while some health care providers are providing vaccinations for people 16 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions.
Becker said that expanding eligibility will make it easier for other workers to get vaccinated.
"Firstly, roles like construction worker, housekeeper, and gardener are not listed," Becker said. "Secondly, many in East Palo Alto may, for example, take care of kids but may not be a licensed childcare provider. These people are not coming in if they think they may not be eligible because they don't want to take someone else's spot."
Expanding eligibility would also help families who live together get vaccinated.
"When you have a hard-hit community with massive community spread and folks living in crowded homes together, it doesn't make sense for a 49-year-old to drive a 70-year-old and (for) that 49-year old not to get vaccinated," Becker said.
This isn't the first call for increased vaccinations in East Palo Alto. In a news conference on March 1, Becker and other local leaders called for the state to increase vaccine clinics in East Palo Alto given its low vaccination rate. Since then, the county announced weekly vaccination clinics in East Palo Alto through the Ravenswood Family Health Network.
San Mateo County also canceled its mass vaccination clinics for the foreseeable future to focus on smaller clinics in vulnerable communities.
Becker commended the county for its efforts and said, "Now we just need to make it as easy as possible for people in these communities to get vaccinated and that's why I'm calling for this expanded eligibility."
People can sign up at MyTurn.ca.gov to be notified when they become eligible for the vaccine. A MyTurn help line is available at 833-422-4255.
San Mateo County's notification tool is also available online here.
Those struggling to make an appointment can also contact Becker's district office at 650-212-3313.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.