Estruth: COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Silicon Valley renews fight for health,


COVID-19 infections continue to rise across California, including in Santa Clara County, where ICU beds are nearly full.

The virus continues to harm people of color disproportionately. According to the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health Emergency Operations Center, Latinx people have suffered 51% of the county’s COVID cases, despite being only 25.8 percent of the population. Black and Latinx people have died at 2.8 times the rates of white people; American Indians have died at 2.6 times the rate nationally.

Given the racially disparate impact of the management of the virus, and the current COVID vaccine rollout, it is constructive to think about previous vaccination and racial justice campaigns in the South Bay.

Between 1965 and 1971, the new availability of Medi-Cal provided a basis for San Jose residents to make bolder political claims for racial justice in the provision of medical care.

In 1965, the federal government established the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicare launched a universal program that served the elderly and Medicaid was a means-tested program that provided health care to low-income and disabled people. The 1965 Medicaid legislation established Medi-Cal, California’s own administration of the federal program.

In 1971, the newspaper San Jose Red Eye reported a case of insufficient support from Medi-Cal in providing public healthcare coverage for Latinx women. Most doctor’s offices and hospitals were on the west side of San Jose, and transit access from the east side to medical facilities across town was a major issue facing the community. This was a real impediment to accessing Medi-Cal care.

An elderly patient contacted the newspaper to report that her Medi-Cal doctor’s office was indifferent to her inability to travel in for an appointment. She had said the distance was an undue impediment, and was outraged at the doctor’s office’s disrespect for her situation.

The newspaper demanded Medi-Cal care be provided by more Latinx doctors, and include transport from predominantly Latinx neighborhoods.

Around the same time, in the Mayfair district, longtime activist Sofia Mendoza established a clinic for the sole purpose of making vaccines available to children who lived in the neighborhood.

Mendoza had initially founded a child and mother development center there, where, on the model of the new federal program Head Start, neighborhood children, largely Latinx and African American, could enjoy pre-kindergarten educational activities.

The center had space, equipment and group time for mothers to teach their children things like how to count, how to identify the colors of the rainbow, developmental milestones such as how to tell time on a clock and build small motor skills such as how to tie shoelaces. Mendoza employed local mothers to run the center, which she called the Community Improvement Center.

During the early years of the program, Mendoza noticed mothers reported difficulties obtaining and maintaining their children’s early childhood vaccinations. Largely, the mothers attributed this hardship to the long commute and inadequate public transport to downtown for vaccination visits.

Coordinating mothers’ work schedules with the doctors’ available appointments, and the appropriate vaccination timetables with available public transit, often meant children did not obtain the vaccines on the schedules they needed for vaccines to be effective.

Mendoza began a campaign to broaden access to childhood vaccinations. She repeatedly took buses from east San Jose to the downtown hospital, and would time the long trip, documenting the journey.

Mendoza brought her evidence to the San Jose City Council and agitated at meetings for years. Ultimately, Mendoza received funding from the city to establish a small family clinic on the east side of San Jose. Her demands for racial and medical justice had gone hand in hand, and this clinic proved a great benefit to the health of a…

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