Lookout: Santa Cruz County leaders warn of inequitable vaccine distribution
By Patrick Riley
Lookout Santa Cruz
January 22, 2021 — Santa Cruz, CA
(Photo above: Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel, UC Santa Cruz epidemiologist Marm Kilpatrick and Pajaro Valley Student Assistance CEO Erica Padilla-Chavez offer insight to the COVID-19 pandemic during a Lookout event Thursday night. Source: Lookout Santa Cruz)
Amid a vaccine rollout hamstrung by limited supplies and logistical challenges, Santa Cruz County government and community leaders sounded alarms Thursday night about how vaccine distribution in South County is lagging even further behind.
The pandemic already has exposed and exacerbated existing inequities across the country, health and community-outreach experts said during a special Lookout virtual event. And South County, home to a large chunk of the county’s Latinx population, is no exception — especially when it comes to vaccine distribution.
“We have improvement to do in the equitable distribution of vaccines,” said Erica Padilla-Chavez, CEO of Pajaro Valley Prevention & Student Assistance and a member of the Pajaro Valley Save Lives team, a coalition of not-for-profits doing COVID-19 prevention and outreach to South County residents.
Unlike other parts of Santa Cruz County, South County is home to a higher percentage of indigent, undocumented individuals who are not enrolled in traditional health care systems, where most vaccines are being distributed.
“We want to engage with the county to have greater clarity, to work with them as they’re mapping it out so that we can . . . begin to calm some of the anxiety and some of their own feeling of being felt dismissed in this process,” Padilla-Chavez said. “So we need to address that, and I understand we’re going to start the conversation pretty soon around that.”
County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel, who was also part of the panel of experts that discussed a wide-range of pandemic-related issues Thursday, agreed that the vaccine rollout has not been as equitable as it needs to be. “We really want to ensure an equitable rollout of vaccine across the county, and especially reaching our hard to reach populations and our most impacted populations in South County, and other affected areas,” she said.