Los Angeles

Kedren Community Health Center steps up to help South L.A. after seeing racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

The South L.A. clinic says it has struggled to ensure doses are getting to the communities that need them most.

Los Angeles is administering vaccines at sites like this one at Cal State LA

As Los Angeles continues its vaccine rollout, many Angelenos are rushing to distribution sites in search of a sense of relief. But for many South Los Angeles residents, getting their shots has proved to be more challenging due to the racial disparities in vaccine distribution.

At Kedren Community Health Center, located 10 minutes away from USC’s University Park campus, health officials said they have seen the racial inequities firsthand.

“It’s not fair because we’re all grasping for scraps, and I think that it puts underserved and vulnerable communities pitted against one another. East L.A. and South L.A. are not at war for this vaccine,” said Dr. Jerry Abraham, the director of Kedren Vaccines at the center. “We’re all trying to help our communities and it is frustrating to feel that it is harder for us to get this precious lifesaving, essential medicine.”

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, communities such as Brentwood, Culver City and South Pasadena have more than 20% of their populations vaccinated despite low COVID-19 cases. On the other hand, areas such as South L.A. have less than 10% of the population vaccinated, despite being home to some of the communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

California has already administered more than 10 million vaccines as of March 4, and officials announced March 3 that the state allocated an additional 400,000 for hotspot communities. One primary neighborhood the new policy targets is South L.A., according to data released by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The state’s decision to earmark vaccines for underserved communities came after the Los Angeles Times released an explosive report in late February that found some people were using codes that the state intended to be for those most in need to get vaccine appointments early.

Amelian Kashiro Hamilton of Sisters With Invoices, a 37-year-old Los Angeles resident who received the vaccine from Kedren, posted an Instagram video that received over 1,000 likes to spread awareness about the work Kedren is doing to ensure that Black people have priority in receiving the vaccine.

Hamilton not only informed viewers when, where and how to get the vaccine in her post, but she described her frustration with the large number of people not from the South L.A. community who were waiting in line to receive the vaccine.

“A lot of people were just kind of disregarding the Black bodies that were there and moving forward and asking to get ahead,” Hamilton said. “It just kind of gave this very elitist energy, this occupying energy that was really triggering to say the least, to see that invasiveness.”

Kedren was originally founded in 1965 with a mission to provide comprehensive patient care for children, transitional aged youth, and people with mental health difficulties. When the vaccine was developed, Abraham said he decided to transform Kendren into a vaccine distribution center to serve the South L.A. community.

The clinic now serves as a primary distribution site for the vaccine, and has vaccinated over 9,000 people and counting since February.

“Everyone in this county needs a shot, but they need to wait their turn,” Abraham said. “We need to make sure that the vaccines go to where the hotbeds, where the heat maps, where the highest infection rates, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, ventilation rates and fatality rates are highest. Unfortunately, that is not someone who’s isolated and holed up in their home.”

Earlier this year, the health center was featured in the Los Angeles Times after receiving an extra 600 vaccine doses and working well past closing hours on a Friday night to distribute them. Kedren was praised for getting the vaccine out to those who didn’t have access to a computer or internet to schedule an appointment and allowing walk-ins.

In a March 3 news release, the county addressed the issue of vaccine accessibility due to technological barriers. “Los Angeles County continues work mitigating barriers and increasing access to vaccines to eligible residents and workers in the hardest hit communities,” stated the release. The county also described efforts to work with community leaders and organizers to help people navigate the online registration interface and allow onsite registration.

Abraham said that despite the controversy and difficulty for minority groups to get the vaccine, everyone should be able to get one, but at the right time and the right place.

“Doesn’t change the fact that those people too deserve vaccines, ideally when it is their turn, ideally, they don’t have to come to Kedren to get them because Kedren is here to support our community and our community needs to be first in line at Kedren for the vaccines that we’ve been allocated,” he said.

The county also said on March 2 that while COVID-19 vaccines remain limited, “when Johnson & Johnson doses come into L.A. County, a vaccine that is 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 hospitalization and death, we are hopeful this will improve vaccine supply.”