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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

San Diego County COVID-19 Vaccination Rates Highest In Wealthy ZIP Codes

Patients waiting in line for a COVID-19 vaccine outside a vaccination super s...

Photo by Matt Hoffman

Above: Patients waiting in line for a COVID-19 vaccine outside a vaccination super station in Chula Vista, Calif. Feb. 5, 2021.

Residents in wealthier and whiter ZIP codes of San Diego County — which have far lower rates of COVID-19 than poorer areas —are nonetheless much more likely to have been vaccinated, according to new data released by San Diego County.

County ZIP codes with the highest vaccination rates are in Coronado, Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, La Jolla and Solana Beach, the county data show. In each of those ZIP codes, at least one in four residents have received vaccines.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

Meanwhile, the lower-income, largely Latino neighborhood of Logan Heights, which has one of the highest COVID-19 case rates in the county, has one of the lowest vaccination rates. Just 7% of residents in Logan Heights have received a vaccine, the data show.

In other ZIP codes with high case rates, including those in El Cajon, Chula Vista San Ysidro and Imperial Beach, vaccination rates range from 10% to 15%, the data show.

Right now, 45% of vaccinated people in San Diego County are white, 15% are Latinx, 11% are Asian, 2% are Black and 25% are of other race and/or ethnicity or unknown, according to county data.

The disparity is largely predictable because of the way the vaccines have been rolled out in the county, said Rebecca Fielding-Miller, an epidemiologist at UC San Diego. After healthcare workers, people 75 and older had access to the vaccine first, and that population is generally whiter and more well-off, she said.

For example, in Coronado, where vaccination rates are among the highest, there are more residents age 65 and up compared to the rest of the county, according to data from the San Diego Association of Governments. Coronado’s population is 75% white and 45% of households there have an income above $100,000, according to the data.

The county opened up vaccines to people 65 and older on Jan. 23, and the method for obtaining vaccine appointments have favored people with more time and more resources, Fielding-Miller said.

“It’s hard to access these websites, you needed access to the internet, you need to be comfortable with a form that asked you for your social security number, and you needed to be pretty quick and tech savvy,” she said.

In addition, people in lower-income communities are more likely to have worries that run the gamut from logistical problems in getting to a vaccination station like Petco Park to a distrust of the medical system.

“Some can’t take time off work to go sit in line in a car at Petco for three hours, or some might say, ‘I don’t have a private car and am concerned about taking public transportation,’” Fielding-Miller said. “Those are access issues, where the perceived benefits of running those risks have to outweigh barriers.”

Fielding-Miller also said that people are more likely to make the effort to get a vaccine when they see friends and family and people they trust getting vaccinated themselves.

“So there’s a potential spiral effect, where as more white people and people in affluent communities get the vaccine, it grows exponentially, and when that’s not happening in communities of color we can see it continue to divide,” she said.

'Barriers' must be removed

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said these racial and economic divides must be addressed before vaccinations are opened up to more age groups and professions.

“If we move on too quickly, they will stay unvaccinated,” Gonzalez said. “Those barriers don’t go away by opening vaccines to teachers and police officers.”

Vaccination sites are now open across the county, and many have hundreds of appointment openings every day. But that doesn’t mean people in South Bay or East County have ready access to a vaccine, Gonzalez said.

“Because people could book those appointments online, individuals with more resources took those appointments, so there were people coming from North County to Chula Vista,” she said.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Maria Ochoa de Gonzalez, a 74-year-old housekeeper, speaks outside of her El Cajon apartment, Feb. 9, 2021.

Meanwhile, people like Maria Ochoa de Gonzalez, a 74-year-old housekeeper, remain unvaccinated. The El Cajon resident said she wants a vaccine but doesn’t know how to get one.

“I'm not sure who to talk to about who and where we would get the vaccine,” Ochoa de Gonzalez said. “I have talked with my husband, and we have wondered if we can get both vaccines at once.”

Outreach efforts

The county recently announced that it’s saving some appointments specifically for residents of South Bay. In addition, Assemblywoman Gonzalez said she and others pushed the state to give vaccines to small community clinics where lower-income people often receive medical care, but that those clinics were already stretched thin with COVID-19 testing and caring for sick people.

A clinic in Logan Heights is now preparing to offer vaccines, but they have not received vaccine shipments yet.

Organizations such as the Chicano Federation are now working with the county to help people schedule and get to vaccine appointments, said the federation's CEO Nancy Maldonado.

“We have dedicated staff helping people on the phone and in person scheduling vaccine appointments, making sure they have transportation, child care,” she said.

They are also employing community health workers known as promotoras. The promotoras station themselves outside grocery stores and other community locations where they talk to people about their concerns and help them get vaccination appointments.

“We are seeing a very small increase in the number of Latino people getting vaccinated, and we’re hopeful that once these efforts get more underway, we will start to see those numbers increase,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said she would have preferred the state and county used an employment-based system for determining who could access the vaccine first, as was originally planned, instead of switching to an age-based system.

“We’ll keep pushing for professions at higher risk and that are more likely to be people of color,” she said.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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