Difficulties vaccinating older Angelenos and the importance of community health clinics

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People ages 65 and up can currently get vaccinated against COVID-19 in LA County. But the public health department says fewer than half of that age group have received the first dose.

Why is it still so difficult for older people to get vaccinated? Workers at neighborhood clinics say it’s because the state’s vaccination allocation is prioritizing large health care networks like Kaiser and mega-sites like Dodger Stadium, and leaving community health centers behind.

“Here in East LA, it seems like everybody's forgotten about the patient population, in spite of the fact that we have one of the highest rates of infection,” says Dr. Victor Ruiz, who cares for patients at Via Care Community Health Center in East Los Angeles. Most of his patients are Latino, undocumented, and non-English speakers. 

His clinic received its first batch of vaccines for patients this week: 100 doses for 2,500 senior patients. “That's going to be 50 patients per week, as an average, because we have to allocate some of those for the second vaccination a month from now,” says Ruiz. “You can see what the outlook for my 2,500 patients would look like.”

Because of the low supply, Ruiz and his staff have to ration vaccines, forcing their patients to book appointments at mega-sites like Dodger Stadium and Cal State LA. Language barriers, digital illiteracy, transportation, and immigration fears are major barriers to going to those sites. Governor Gavin Newsom acknowledged equity shortfalls at a mobile vaccination clinic in Inglewood on Sunday.

Dr. Ruiz is happy to see LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis deploying mobile units to housing projects in Bell, Ramona, and Boyle Heights, but wants city, county, and state leaders to prioritize community clinics that already have locations, staff, and relationships with their patients.

“You're leaving the elderly population behind,” he says.