COVID-19 vaccine: Leaders in hard-hit East San Jose seek priority for their community

EAST SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The potential that COVID-19 vaccines could be ready in a matter of months leads to the question, who will get them first?

Advocates in a San Jose neighborhood with high infection rates are already working on a priority plan. Health is an important part of ABC7's Building A Better Bay Area initiative.

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East San Jose neighborhoods rank among the highest in the county for COVID-19 cases.

Community groups that represent its many Latino and Vietnamese residents hope that will be factored into planning for distribution of vaccines.

"We want to have a seat at the table, just so that whatever plan that they are putting out reflects the cultural background of our residents," said Long Vu, executive director of the Mekong Community Center.

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LUNA, or Latinos United for a New America, is one of seven community groups meeting weekly to formulate recommendations to county leaders. Many in East San Jose live in cramped housing or in extended family households.

Many others are front line workers, employed at supermarkets and restaurants, which makes them vulnerable to the virus. So, the groups see access to vaccines and educating the public about their safety as an important mission.

"They know that we have their best interests in mind, and who better than these organizations to, you know, talk to people about whether they should trust the vaccine or not?" said Salvador "Chava" Bustamante, executive director of LUNA.

County health officials indicate here's who will set priorities for access to vaccines. At the federal level, the CDC has an advisory committee.

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California has a working group that will set state guidelines. Santa Clara County says it will work with local community partners.

Local groups said they had to lobby to get COVID test sites in East San Jose early in the pandemic. They don't want the same to happen for access to vaccines, given the high infection rate.

"The testing sites didn't go to those communities right away, and so I think that we learn from the mistakes we learned from what we didn't do right, and we try to not do it again," said Veronica Goei, executive director of Grail Family Services.

Setting priorities is expected to be essential if vaccine supplies are limited as production starts up. East San Jose groups hope to have their plan ready for county health leaders in three to four weeks.

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