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Early in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Gov. Gavin Newsom sounded like a broken record repeating, “We don’t have enough vaccine supply to meet the demand.”

But, this week Fresno County officials scrambled to open eligibility to everyone 16 years and older because the doses exceeded the demand.

The potential problem now? People who have wanted vaccines might be almost done getting them.

Supervisor Brian Pacheco, who represents the county’s heavily agricultural west, doesn’t believe that’s the case.  He’s continuing to push vaccination efforts there.

GV Wire drove to mass vaccination sites at Sierra Pacific Orthopedics and Fresno City College on Friday morning and saw many fewer cars in line than previous weeks.

This doesn’t appear to just be a Fresno problem either. The New York Times reports that Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Georgia are opening eligibility to entice more people to utilize on-hand vaccine supplies.

In recent weeks, Sierra Pacific Orthopedics has had a long line of cars for vaccinations. That’ wasn’t the case on Friday, April 9, 2021. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

The vaccination site at Fresno City College also had plenty of room in the parking lot on Friday. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

The Next Front in Vaccinations

Steve Brandau

“Maybe we are seeing the mop-up phase of vaccinations?”– Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau

According to Fresno County’s vaccine dashboard, 40.2% of residents 16 and over have gotten at least one dose of vaccine. 523,647 total doses (includes residents and non-residents) have been administered so far, with a goal of 1.2 million by the end of August to reach herd immunity.

“Now what?,” Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau asks. “Maybe we are seeing the mop-up phase of vaccinations?”

Fresno County Department of Health officials say they hit a ‘lull’ this week on getting vaccines into arms. They fear getting the next 500,000 doses administered will be much harder than the initial group.

“We made some calls to our providers and they’re seeing that all around the system,” said Community Health Manager Joe Prado in a Thursday briefing with reporters. “We really are going to start getting the word out in a very intentional manner.”

To that end, Prado says the county is making a big push to connect with multi-ethnic media outlets and community-based organizations that are trusted in their communities.

Personal Calling for Pacheco

“I felt it was my duty and I did my job. And I will not apologize for that. I will not.”– Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco

Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco says he has had a “boots on the ground” approach since the beginning of the pandemic to vaccinate farmworkers on the west side.

“It was just a personal calling for me,” Pacheco said. He owns a dairy farm with 24 employees. “We’ve got to milk these cows every day, and we need a healthy workforce.”

Pacheco is now pushing to get more mobile clinics up and running in the face of the vaccination slowdown. He says transportation is an issue in many communities in his west side district.

In late January, 50 farmworkers were vaccinated at the Pappas Family Farm in Mendota.

“Mendota is always the poster child for the drought and high unemployment. That’s why it was my priority,” says Pacheco.

There are about 70,000 farm and food production workers in Fresno County. The vaccinations that January morning only represented .07% of the entire workforce. Nonetheless, Pacheco was undaunted in his pursuit of bringing the vaccines directly to the people that he felt needed them most.

“(Farmworkers) don’t have access to the internet,” he said.  “(They) have limited computer use in the home.”

Not Apologizing for West Side Push

Pacheco says he’s taken heat from colleagues wondering why the west side was getting more vaccine than other areas.

“I represent the west side,” says Pacheco. “I felt it was my duty and I did my job. And I will not apologize for that. I will not.”

There soon will be a mobile clinic in Tranquility. That’s in addition to the clinics running in Mendota, Cantua Creek, and Firebaugh.

“Tranquility is a smaller community. But nonetheless, it will be another outlier community, a disadvantaged community that we’re taking the shots directly to them,” Pacheco said.

Increasing Education Efforts

Pacheco doesn’t mince words when he says he’s led all other board members in his push to get vaccine information out.

“I’ve led the board in this, without a doubt,” says Pacheco.

He says in the coming weeks more messaging about vaccinations will hit Univision to change the minds of hesitant people about the vaccinations. Pacheco believes the personal stories of people that have been vaccinated will be a key component.

“(People) may not want to be first, but they don’t want to be last either,” he said.

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