Data raises troubling rural/urban equity disparity in vaccine distribution
By Miriam Raftery
May 17, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – COVID-19 Vaccination rates in East County communities are significantly below the county average – but most rural, mountain and desert communities haven’t even been documented.
Data provided by the County’s Health and Human Services agency as of May 15 reveals that countywide, 55.9% of those eligible have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A breakdown by zip code shows broad disparities.
The highest rate is in San Ysidro, where an astonishing 99.9% have had at least one vaccine, perhaps a tribute to the county’s efforts to outreach into hard-hit communities. Chula Vista’s zip codes also have high vaccination rates ranging from 63.5% to 73.1%, while National City has a 60% vaccination rate.
By contrast, in East County, the highest vaccination rates of any community are in La Mesa, where the two zip code areas (91941 and 91942) have 59.2% and 55.6% respectively.
East County’s other incorporated cities have lesser rates: Lemon Grove 54.1%, Santee 49.2% and El Cajon, where the Mayor has been vocal about defying COVID-19 shutdown orders and masking mandates, the rates are even lower at 47.5% and 42.8% for its two zip codes (92020 and 92021).
Among unincorporated areas listed in East County, Alpine has a 45.4% vaccination rate, Lakeside just 42.3%, Spring Valley 56.4%, Ramona 42.2%, and Rancho San Diego 49.8%.
No listings are provided for zip codes with fewer than 10,000 people or less than 6 vaccines. As a result, there is no data for any of these East County communities: Boulevard, Campo, Descanso, Dulzura, Guatay, Jacumba, Jamul, Mt. Laguna, Pine Valley, Potrero, Tecate, Borrego Springs, Julian, or Warner Springs.
Data is important, since it could help shine a light on which communities need better access to vaccination clinics, transportation to vaccination sites, and reliable information for those not yet vaccinated on vaccine safety and efficacy.
Some rural communities have had no vaccine clinics, or only one-day vaccinations at fire stations with little advance publicity.
Has the push to get vaccinations administered in densely populated areas with high minority populations – those hardest hit by COVID-19 cases – resulted in largely ignoring East County’s often remote rural, desert and mountain towns?
As mask mandates are lifted, might largely unvaccinated people spread COVID and turn their communities into COVID hot spots locally?
Vaccination rates are noticeably lower overall in “red” areas of the county where vaccine hesitancy or anti-vax views are more prevalent among some, but not all, conservatives. Such views were fostered by former President Donald Trump and politicians who long falsely claimed the virus was a hoax; some conspiracy sites have also spread false rumors to discredit vaccines, such as bizarrely claiming the shots contain tracking implant devices.
Some Republican leaders have begun speaking out to educate the public on vaccines and dispel myths. El Cajon Councilman Steve Goble showing slides at a recent city council meeting showing the much higher death rate from COVID-19 than the flu, along with information on vaccine safety and side effects.
El Cajon Councilman Kendrick told ECM that he's pleased to hear that Uber and Lyft are now offering free rides to get vaccines now through July 4th, "This makes it even easier to get the COVID vaccine which could save their life," he said, adding that he and his entire family have been vaccinated.
Even Mayor Wells, who has long been calling for COVID restrictions to be lifted, has said he did receive the vaccine.
In La Mesa, an initiative led by Councilman Jack Shu, a Democrat, has pushed for vaccine equity in the city, including a vaccine clinic scheduled for May 22 at Helix High School. La Mesa is also home to a super-center vaccination site at Grossmont Center.
In other parts of the County, most city of San Diego zip codes have vaccination rates above the county average, though a few are slightly below.
In North County, coastal areas have mostly high vaccination rates, but some inland areas are far lower, with rural Fallbrook at only 37.7%, Valley Center at 46.6% and the Pala reservation at 45%, again showing a rural/urban divide in vaccine equity.
East County Magazine has reached out to East County’s District 2 Supervisor Joel Anderson regarding the county’s lack of data for most East County communities as well as our region’s lower vaccination rates; ECM will publish his response when received.
Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.
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