By Alexa Oslowski and Angela Kurysh
March 24, 2021 (San Diego) - As of yesterday, Viejas Arena at San Diego State University became the county’s newest vaccination site, after the university and San Diego County partnered up to establish a more equitable site for communities within the College area. Although this site is open to the public, Chair of the County Board of Supervisors Nathan Fletcher, who issued a press conference Monday morning at the arena, announced that 10% of the vaccines have been reserved for San Diego’s ‘hardest-hit communities.’
“The opening of a robust vaccination site at this well-known location offers an important expansion of our ability to not only administer vaccines but to ensure an equity-based focus, to make sure that the communities who have been historically left behind and not had unique plans and processes in place, ensure their access to public health,” Supervisor Fletcher said.
Project SAVE (Scheduling Assistance for Vaccine Equity), a pilot program created to help ineligible communities gain access to the vaccine, has joined this partnership; representatives from the San Diego Refugee Communities Coalition and the Somali Family Service of San Diego addressed their needs and concerns at the press conference. Fletcher emphasized the importance of these neglected communities having equitable access to the vaccine.
“This has been a successful program engaging with community-based organizations to reach those participating communities, and ensure they have direct access into the system,” Fletcher said. “They need some direct engagement from someone who knows the community, who speaks the language, who can answer questions and issues and walk through the vital public health importance of getting a vaccine.”
Ramah Awad from the Majdal Center, who represents the San Diego Refugee Communities Coalition, described the objectives that this project aims to achieve, as well as how it has already impacted these communities.
“Our mission is to lead coordinated action to ensure that individuals and families from refugee communities throughout San Diego County are healthy, safe and thriving. While the coalition predates the pandemic, it has served as an effective vehicle for coordinating and growing response efforts to the COVID-19 health crisis,” Awad stated.
Another speaker, Najla Ibrahim, Director of Health and Wellness from Somali Family Service of San Diego also spoke regarding how this new site supports their communities who were hardest hit by the pandemic.
Awad continued, “We've been able to contract services to inform, educate and empower through an effective community health worker model and effective community engagement strategy. We've been able to keep our community informed and empowered through a very difficult pandemic as known by everyone. Our communities are quite isolated by mainstream information platforms as well as they've been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”
Viejas area will open with around 200 appointments every day, with preparation to increase that number to 750 and eventually to 1,500, as the county receives the supply to do so. Viejas Arena’s hours for administering vaccines will be Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“Communities that historically have the least access into our normal healthcare systems have a culturally competent appropriate way through trusted messengers to be able to access our vaccine network,” Fletcher said. “We are so incredibly grateful to San Diego State University, to our community partners, to our healthcare system partners and to everyone who has helped us come together.”