South LA

USC announces efforts to increase vaccination for vulnerable L.A. populations

One vaccine effort Wednesday aims to vaccinate about 500 people from the South L.A. region.

USC will host an event on March 3 to help vaccinate more people in the South L.A. community. This event comes in addition to other initiatives set out by the university to bridge the gap in vaccine access between wealthier regions of L.A. County and the South and East Los Angeles areas, officials announced at a press conference last week.

Although more effort has been put behind opening accessible testing sites across the city, vaccine equity remains a problem in Los Angeles County, according to a recent map from the Los Angeles Times.

Black, Indigenous and Latinx people are most at risk for contracting and dying from COVID-19, yet these communities are also less likely to be vaccinated and have accessible testing sites. These populations face a disproprotionate amount of risks as they’re more likely to lack access to health care and safe housing, work in essential jobs and face discrimination within the medical field, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

About 2.2 million vaccines have been administered in L.A. County, according to the Official California State Government. About 20% of people in L.A. County who received the vaccine have been white, while just below a quarter of vaccine recipients in the county are Latinx, the group that has faced the highest death rates from the coronavirus. However, Black people make up less than 5% of that vaccinated population.

According to David Roman, a USC professor of English and American studies and ethnicity, medical service inequities have existed far before the pandemic in areas across Los Angeles.

“There’s a smaller provider to patient ratio in [South L.A.],” Roman said. “That was a preexisting condition before COVID-19 came around… that meant that there’s fewer doctors per individual here in this area.”

On Friday, USC President Carol Folt revealed a campus vaccination plan to inoculate 1,200 people each week when supplies allow, which includes a bi-weekly testing program for undergraduates. As the USC community is developing a plan to help vaccinate students, USC experts held a virtual press conference on Feb. 23 to discuss COVID-19 and vaccine initiatives for the greater Los Angeles community.

Felipe Osorno, an executive administrator at USC Keck Medical Center, acknowledged vaccine distribution disparities by addressing different socioeconomic statuses in L.A. neighborhoods and comparing areas like Beverly Hills to Boyle Heights.

“Boyle Heights only has about 6% of adults vaccinated compared to other parts of the city,” said Osorno.

According to a map from the Los Angeles Times, one in 15 Boyle Heights residents has received a vaccine, whereas one in four Beverly Hills residents has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Wealthier and whiter neighborhoods, such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Culver City have a higher vaccination rate, while areas like Watts and Baldwin Hills have lower vaccination rates. These disparities may be related to variations in vaccination site locations. For example, as reported by LA Public Health mapping, Santa Monica has 18 vaccination sites compared to the six in Compton, even though both cities have similar population sizes.

Many school districts and community health centers in South L.A. are also attempting to increase the accessibility and availability of the vaccine to communities of color.

Los Angeles Unified School District is working to ease the disparities in testing in marginalized populations by offering free COVID-19 testing to students through an online scheduling system.

A part of the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers, the Central City Community Health Center runs a number of units in the area that specifically work with underserved communities.

Dr. Sommer Kaskowitz, chief clinical officer at Central City Community Health Center, said  there is demand for the vaccine, “but there is a lot of resistance that we’ve encountered within the [South L.A.] community.”

“We are having a little trouble finding enough patients to come in on a regular weekly basis to get everybody in to use our vaccines,” Kaskowitz said.

Throughout the press conference, USC said it has made a commitment to aid in the process of closing the disparity gap regarding vaccination distribution in South L.A. There is pressure for the university to partner with community organizations in South L.A. to help answer questions and battle uncertainty.

“The natural hesitancy with different vaccinations and health care in general is part of what we’re trying to tackle to reduce the inequity,” Osorno said.

USC has also implemented an initiative to partner with community organizations in East L.A. in and around Boyle Heights specifically, Osorno said. These collaborations include using churches, community centers, recreation centers and senior living facilities, as they have an established relationship with the locals. Through that partnership, 420 members from vulnerable communities were able to be vaccinated on one Saturday in February.

“We will continue these efforts because the gaps are large, and we want to make sure we help close them,” Osorno said.