Kristi Weyand
Deputy Editor

As college students, it is likely that we have seen our peers sharing places in their community to get vaccinated for COVID-19, often urging attendees to be from the community and in at-risk demographic groups. Then Bakersfield came along. Two weeks ago, the LA Times reported that hundreds of individuals from L.A. who were not eligible for the vaccine in their area were traveling to Bakersfield to get vaccinated at California State University, Bakersfield, which had such a high quantity of vaccines and a low demand for them that the facilities opened up the availability to anyone from anywhere. However, maybe we should not be encouraging people to day trip for their vaccine.

While people are weighing the choice of traveling four hours from L.A. to Bakersfield, many people in rural areas — such as those around Kern County — do not have a choice but to commute to get a vaccine. The vast majority of the San Joaquin Valley is rural; the three major cities — Stockton, Fresno, and Bakersfield — are all spread from the north, central, and southern parts of the valley, leaving pharmacy/hospital-barren communities in-between them struggling to find doses, especially with the pause in Johnson & Johnson distribution. Commuting for vaccines is a necessity in many cases, and, when doses are available and not being used, it should not be criticized.

Yet, the case of Bakersfield shows that availability and accessibility is not the only problem facing rural vaccination efforts. Interest in vaccines in Bakersfield has dwindled in the past weeks, with same-day appointments available at sites in Kern County. As the outside demand decreases, there is not enough willingness in the community to fill the gaps. Some who traveled to Bakersfield to get their vaccine realized this, with the LA Times ending their article on the L.A. to Bakersfield vaccine drive with the concerns of Karla Hernandez, who was “worried that Central Valley residents weren’t getting vaccinated because of misinformation spreading in the community.” The vaccine rate in Bakersfield has frozen around 24 percent, compared to 33 percent of people statewide — and, when the CSU Bakersfield site opened, only around 900 people came per day, when the site could vaccinate 5,400 per day.

When individuals from L.A. began traveling to get the readily-available vaccine, the number of daily vaccinations rose to approximately 2,500. The excitement of accessible doses drew hundreds of individuals from Southern California. Even actor Wil Wheaton advertised he had gotten his vaccine in Bakersfield, stating in an Instagram post that “It’s so quick and easy, and you aren’t jumping the line or taking a jab away from someone.” While it is true that those travelling from L.A. were not stealing doses from the arms of Kern County residents — with many slots still available — the case of Bakersfield illustrates that public health and government officials should not just focus on using doses but also addressing community fears.

Solving misinformation is not one-size-fits all. In Bakersfield, health officials are faced with vaccine hesitancy in White evangelical communities, Latinx communities, Black communities, and among other vulnerable individuals. In January, Dr. Matthew Beare and a team of medical health professionals continued their outreach among houseless individuals, which had expanded during the pandemic to include COVID-19 testing and, now, reassuring the safety of the vaccination. Following other cities’ efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy, Bakersfield College and Centric Health partnered with St. Peter Restoration Community Christian Ministries to host a vaccine clinic at the church.

The problem is not that people who need and want the vaccine are getting doses that would otherwise go to waste, but that, in the effort to use the doses, there is little focus on encouraging actual members of the community to be the ones to get the vaccine. This blame is not completely on the vaccination site, which did not stop but also did not encourage out of the area vaccinators, nor is it on the people getting vaccinated. Instead, this is a failure of local government and public health officials. The point is not to expect vaccine rollouts to be flawless, but to have community governments ensuring their own localities that the vaccine is safe and will be available.

If Governor Gavin Newsom is going to allocate the doses of vaccines to Bakersfield, there needs to be more partnerships with street medics and community efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy. Instead, communities with low demand either face lower dose allotments or must return the doses they were unable to distribute. Bakersfield is not the only city in the San Joaquin Valley facing this issue. While Bakersfield’s allotment decreased from 25,000 to 16,000 doses a week, Fresno had to return a large portion of their 43,000 vaccine allotment to the state. Removing doses from the community will do nothing to encourage more people to get vaccinated but will, obviously, provide less opportunity for those who are simply reluctant to find available vaccines if they decide they want one.

It is a good thing people are willing (and able) to travel distances to get the vaccine. However, as contradictory as it may sound, vaccination efforts cannot be hailed as a success because people are getting the vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy and inaccessibility will be the world’s greatest obstacle (next to COVID-19 strains) in moving through the pandemic. One in four Americans have stated that they would not get vaccinated if presented with the opportunity. The answer to this dilemma is not just circulating doses in their community, but circulating information and community reassurance. Bakersfield and Fresno present perfect opportunities for the California government to begin pairing community engagement with vaccination efforts in order to combat vaccine hesitancy.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Steven Mayer / The Californian

Author

  • Kristi Weyand is a third-year double-majoring in English and Political Science with a perhaps-too-hopeful plan to pursue a career in journalism. Her time as the Arts & Entertainment Editor has led to her interest in the intersection of entertainment and ideas generally seen as political, inspiring her way-too-many thinkpieces. When she is not writing, she can be found procrastinating by baking, watching bad movies, over-listening to the same music, and crying over succulents she just can’t seem to keep alive.

Kristi Weyand is a third-year double-majoring in English and Political Science with a perhaps-too-hopeful plan to pursue a career in journalism. Her time as the Arts & Entertainment Editor has led to her interest in the intersection of entertainment and ideas generally seen as political, inspiring her way-too-many thinkpieces. When she is not writing, she can be found procrastinating by baking, watching bad movies, over-listening to the same music, and crying over succulents she just can’t seem to keep alive.

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