‘Honor System’ in Play as Fresno Vaccine Eligibility Widens Significantly - GV Wire - Explore. Explain. Expose
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‘Honor System’ in Play as Fresno Vaccine Eligibility Widens Significantly

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An estimated 4.4 million more people became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine at the stroke of midnight Monday morning according to the state data.

Beginning March 15, vaccinations became available to those with certain medical conditions, disabilities, living spaces, or work environments that put them at higher risk for serious COVID-19 illness.

Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County interim health officer

“We really don’t know exactly how many people are going to be newly eligible based on this co-morbid condition that weren’t already covered (vaccinated).”Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra

Last Thursday, the state opened the eligibility up to even more categories including individuals who live or work in a congregate residential setting, such as:

  • Incarceration/detention facilities
  • Homeless shelters
  • Behavioral health facilities

Additionally, public transit workers, commercial airline employees, homeless Californians and those in federal immigrant detention centers can now get the vaccine. The state says, transportation and logistics workers are, “at high risk for occupational exposure, and maintaining continuity of transportation operations is critical.”

Fresno County health officials say they don’t know how many more people to expect with this newly opened up group of people.

“I wish that we did,” responded Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra. “We really don’t know exactly how many people are going to be newly eligible based on this co-morbid condition that weren’t already covered (under earlier guidelines). Because, remember there’s a lot of over sixty five and over seventy five individuals that have already been vaccinated.”

Vohra believes there’s maybe hundreds of thousands of newly eligible Fresno County residents as of Mar. 15.

The first two weeks is always a way to judge how the tier goes,” said Community Health Manager Joe Prado, who is engineering vaccination efforts in Fresno County.

COVID-19 Equity Project Site

“The new tiers opening up has certainly increased the interest of all these people have been waiting to get vaccinated. And we hope to take care of many people as possible today.”Dr. Kenny Banh, COVID-19 Equity Project

GV Wire℠ visited the UCSF-Fresno COVID-19 Equity Project across the street from Fashion Fair mall Monday morning to get a sense of how many additional people were lining up to get vaccinated.

Cars were lined up well beyond the point they normally would be, acknowledged some of the workers directing traffic at the UC Merced Fresno Center site.

The COVID-19 Equity Project’s mission is to provide equal access for COVID-19 testing and other health screenings to underserved areas in Fresno specifically communities of color.

Dr. Kenny Banh, Asst. Dean, UCSF-Fresno and site organizer says his staff was much busier than normal for a Monday. GV Wire℠ spoke with him on site around 11 a.m.

“Usually by this time of the day, we’re starting to churn through the line,” said Banh. “The new tiers opening up has certainly increased the interest of all these people have been waiting to get vaccinated. And we hope to take care of many people as possible today.”

Banh expected to vaccinate 500 people by the end of the day.

One of Bahn’s main goals is to keep the process as simple and straight forward as possible for people by removing as many hurdles to vaccination as possible. To that end, people can utilize a sort of honor system method to verify they have an underlying health condition.

“If you’re a medical condition exemption, you can come with a doctor’s note or you can come in with and sign an attestation that you have that (condition). Most people have not had a doctor’s note, and that’s ok,” said Banh. “If we’re talking about equity in reaching patients who are lower socioeconomic, they may not have insurance, they may not have a regular primary doctor.”

People as young as 16 can come get a vaccine if they have an underlying medical condition. Banh says he hasn’t seen many young people, but would welcome them if they want to get the shot. He notes that only the Pfizer vaccine, which the Equity Project has, have been approved for use for 16 and 17 year old people. Those 18 and older can get either the Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Cars lined up for about a mile before entering the tents set up by UCSF-Fresno at the COVID Equity Project location across from Fashion Fair mall. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

Where To Check for Your Turn

Official portrait of Buddy Mendes

“My turn does not work in the ag sector.”Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes

Every Californian can sign up at myturn.ca.gov or call (833) 422-4255 to see if it’s their turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes told reporters on a virtual call last Friday that MyTurn doesn’t work for everyone.

“MyTurn does not work in the ag sector,” said Mendes while video streaming from a mobile vaccination site in the west side Fresno County community of Five Points. He said the online system can create a barrier for many people.

Mendes says it’s still very important the county still receives a direct allotment of vaccine from the state so mobile clinics in rural ag areas can still continue unabated.

“It’s a lot better if the county has the vaccine, and the county can get with their CBO’s (community based organizations) and get people to help,” says Mendes.