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Facebook expands vaccination efforts to help underserved communities

Four miles from Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters stands Costaño Elementary School, in East Palo Alto. It’s part of the Ravenswood City School District, where all 3,000 students automatically qualify for the free breakfast and lunch program — an anomaly in California — and striking for its proximity to the social media giant, which closed out 2020 with $86 billion in revenues.

Last Friday morning, as roughly 200 students and 100 teachers settled into classrooms for summer school, the line in the parking lot for free meals, groceries and fresh produce quickly grew. Many of the community members who stopped by to pick up food for the weekend, distributed by local non-profits, had no idea that Facebook had organized the program. They were also pleasantly surprised to find a new mobile health center providing COVID-19 vaccines in the same lot. 

The mobile vaccine truck will be parked at schools in the district on Fridays and Sundays throughout the summer.

“I’m so glad Facebook is doing this,” Deborah Anthonyson said as she looked for a bench in the shade, where she could rest during the 15-minute observation period after her shot. The retired librarian had struggled to find a convenient appointment at a nearby location and said she’s the last one in her family to get vaccinated “simply because I wasn’t able to make that appointment.” 

The mobile vaccine truck, which is staffed by four nurses and can vaccinate 25 to 30 patients per hour, is part of Facebook’s recently expanded community vaccination program. In April, Facebook opened its Menlo Park headquarters to give shots to underserved communities. 

Over 65% of East Palo Alto’s residents are Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau, and nationwide only 15% of Hispanics have been fully vaccinated, compared to more than 60% of Caucasians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ashley Quintana, who’s in charge of Facebook’s community engagement, started the vaccination effort at the company’s headquarters, fully vaccinating 10,000 residents from East Palo Alto in just a few weeks.

“We wanted to make access to the vaccine a lot easier and bring the critical resources to the underserved communities like East Palo Alto,” Quintana said. The mobile vaccine truck will be parked at the school on the same days that food is distributed, on Fridays and Sundays throughout the summer.

But as vaccination rates slow nationwide, she has been expanding Facebook’s program to mobile trucks and other cities where the company has offices. 

Last week, Facebook announced it would work with other non-profits in cities including Seattle, Austin, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and New York to get more Americans vaccinated.

“So many of the community members know about the food programs and they are just used to going to the local school and the local YMCA,” Quintana said. “We want to ensure that everyone who is taking advantage of these programs can also get vaccinated easily.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and CDC set up five different types of community vaccination centers across the country, relying on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, to figure out how to provide more access for high-risk communities and remote areas.

The centers range in size from stadiums, like the one at the Oakland Coliseum 25 miles north of East Palo Alto, where 6,000 people a day were getting vaccinated earlier this year, to smaller sites like high schools, churches and mobile vans.

Nearly 62,000 vaccines had been administered as of late June at federally supported mobile vaccination units, according to a FEMA spokesperson. 

Adrian Arreguyn, 24, who grew up in East Palo Alto and attended Costaño Elementary School, said the lack of transportation and his new job at a chocolate manufacturing company made it difficult for him to find time for the vaccine. 

“I was kind of in shock because I didn’t even believe this was going to be here,” Arreguyn said, adding that he was able to walk from his home. “It gives people like me that don’t have transportation, a location nearby.”

Stephanie Tourand said she knew she needed to keep hitting “refresh” on the county website to find the right appointment window at a nearby location for her son, Liam. She searched all week and was thrilled to see an available appointment in East Palo Alto. 

For 12-year-old Liam, who was decked out in his soccer uniform, getting the vaccine was exciting, but it also meant far more. 

“The beginning of COVID really sucked. I couldn’t see any of my friends, I couldn’t play soccer. But now I can do more of the things I want without having to worry about getting sick,” Liam said. He added, “I feel free again.”


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