Imperial County officials are pushing Gov. Gavin Newsom for more COVID-19 vaccine, citing an inadequate and inequitable supply.

The county Board of Supervisors has sent two letters since January to Newsom, pointing out that similar-sized counties with lower poverty rates, higher household incomes and fewer positive COVID-19 cases and deaths have received more doses.

Why this matters

With a history of high poverty and poor health indicators, Imperial County was among the hardest hit in the state in the early months of COVID-19. Widespread vaccination plays a key role in preventing transmission of the coronavirus.

“‘Equity’ was and has been a theme that has resonated in your messages in regard to COVID-19 response efforts,” the board’s Feb. 11 letter said. 

“Yet we ask, where is the equity in the vaccine allocation distribution to counties?” 

The board copied Democratic Assemblymembers Ben Hueso of San Diego and Eduardo Garcia of Coachella on the letters.

Imperial County has received about 29,000 doses as of last week and county-run vaccination clinics have seen appointments fill up quickly. In January, several hundred people lined up more than 12 hours in advance for one of the first hospital clinics held for residents 65 and older.

San Diego County, which has 3.3 million residents, received nearly 940,000 doses.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are steadily declining in Imperial County, but the region was a hotspot early on in the pandemic. Roughly 15% of its 181,000 residents have contracted COVID-19, compared to about 9% statewide.

The county’s emergency temporary care facility, which opened twice at the local community college, was placed on “warm status” last week. That means it will no longer be used but will remain set up in case of a future surge in cases. The site has served 574 patients.

An economy largely driven by its agriculture industry, Imperial County has long suffered from high poverty and poor health factors. Officials held the first drive-through clinic Friday to vaccinate farmworkers after they were made eligible under state guidelines last week. 

Appointments for the 1,000 available doses were fully booked.

Imperial County is “the poster child for systemic racism,” said Alex Cardenas, a board member at Vo Neighborhood Medical Clinic. The organization has offered testing and vaccinations during the pandemic, along with isolation housing for farmworkers who are exposed to or contract COVID-19.

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Cardenas, a former El Centro mayor, said the county’s poor socioeconomic conditions and lack of services puts a financial burden on local governments, while state and federal leaders aren’t held accountable.

“How in the world does that exist in California?” he said.

Newsom’s office told inewsource in an email that the state increased vaccine allocations by 91% last week, “based on recent changes in our state’s allocation methodology that better reflect its heavy concentration of food and agricultural workers.” The state also has offered an additional vaccination site.

“California is working with local and community partners to provide supports and culturally competent information to farmworkers and their families during the pandemic,” the statement said.

County Public Health Director Janette Angulo said officials plan to model efforts after their previous flu vaccination clinics — when mobile teams went to the fields or held events in the middle of the night in downtown Calexico to administer shots to farmworkers.

“That’s the plan moving forward, meeting them where they’re at and at hours that work for them,” Angulo said. 

The county board decided last week to create a countywide petition drive calling for more vaccines.

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Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jennifer Bowman is an investigative reporter at inewsource, covering Imperial County and the South Bay. She used to cover education for inewsource. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers in Michigan and North Carolina. At the Asheville Citizen Times,...