San Fernando Health Center Urges Reluctant Residents to Get Their COVID-19 Boosters

by Gabriel Arizon, San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol

February 15, 2023

Community Health Worker Rosa Hernandez is part of the Health Education team at the San Fernando Community Health Center. (Photo Courtesy of the San Fernando Community Health Center)

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, the San Fernando Community Health Center (SFCHC) is spreading the word – outreaching to residents to take advantage of free walk-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics. The goal is to get more people in the Northeast Valley their booster shots — especially as the public health emergency declarations will soon come to an end.

The SFCHC received a $111,865 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to host clinics as part of a federal initiative to increase COVID-19 and flu vaccinations in underserved communities. The clinics will be held at the MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity) center in Pacoima and Las Palmas Park in the City of San Fernando.

Audrey Simons, the CEO of the center, said that the SFCHC grant is important to reach those who have still yet to be vaccinated and those who have not properly received booster shots.

“The reason they [HRSA] put this money out at this particular time … it’s been three years [since the pandemic started] and a lot of people would like to believe that the pandemic is over and done with, but … it’s not really over,” said Simons. 

SFCHC is partnering with Dignity Health, a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation that operates hospitals, to use their clinical vaccination team to run the walk-up clinics.

While it seems that people have been bombarded with information, there is still a need for education especially for those in vulnerable populations to be informed. The message is clear —  vaccination and follow up booster shots can prevent hospitalizations and severe infections especially for those who are “high-risk.”

“We’re trying to reach those last ‘doubting Thomases’ that are still not quite sure,” Simons said. “Maybe because there’s so much conflicting information coming and going.”

Another reason why the clinics are being held now, Simons said, is that the federal government will be ending the COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11.

What that means is — although the access and availability of vaccines won’t be changing — at-home tests will be more costly for people with insurance, COVID-19 tests ordered or administered by a health professional will no longer be free for most insured people and people with public coverage may start to face new cost-sharing for pharmaceutical COVID-19 treatments.

With the costs of many of these services expected to rise in just a few months, the HRSA’s and the center’s goal is to get the information out there and get as many people as possible vaccinated.

“They know it’s a very short window,” said Simons. “They want this money out and functional in the community, and so that’s what we did.”

Simons has found Latinos and other ethnic groups to be more reluctant to follow-up on their vaccinations. They may have received their first or second shot dose but didn’t return to get a booster shot. While she doesn’t know the exact percentages, Simons said that the number of Latinos in Los Angeles County who have received their boosters is “significantly lower than what the county Public Health Department would really like.”

Simons explained that these communities where there is a low rate of people having taken booster shots are sometimes communities with those who are at a high risk of a more serious case of COVID-19. The Latino and Black community have a high propensity for diabetes and other health concerns.

Simons has found at her clinic — and been told by health care professionals at other clinics — when people feel ill, they may not seek care. 

The number of cases is skewed as people who use home COVID-19 tests oftentimes don’t report their results to the LA County Health Department.

“There has been a drop off of people requesting vaccines and even testing,” said Simons. “If they don’t have severe symptoms, … in their mind, there’s no reason for them to talk to their doctor, so there’s no reporting a lot of the cases.  

“What this funding is meant to do is get those last few people that we might be able to talk into getting a booster.”

The next clinic is being held Friday, Feb. 17, at MEND. Two additional clinics will be held in March. Another is currently being planned for April during a health fair at SFCHC.

For more information about the clinics, and to check for the dates, go to

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