Kern County’s rural vaccination effort got a much needed boost this week with the debut of a new Adventist Health mobile unit.
Funded by a $200,000 contribution from Chevron, the mobile unit will travel to far-flung parts of Kern County, taking the vaccination process to individuals who might find it difficult to travel to the metropolitan areas where vaccines are more plentiful.
Stemming from Adventist’s mobile child immunization unit, the new mobile clinic began to be developed more than a year and a half ago as part of an effort to bring cancer screenings and other health procedures to rural areas.
“We kind of started dreaming of this idea of having this mobile clinic on wheels,” said Kiyoshi Tomono, partnership executive for Adventist Health Kern County. He noted the design of the unit, a souped-up RV, had begun prior to the coronavirus pandemic. “In the middle of all this COVID breaks out and we realized we have to pivot.”
The result of that pivot was parked in front of McFarland Junior High School on Tuesday and vaccinated more than 230 people. It will be in McFarland again on Wednesday and has the capacity of vaccinating 200 to 300 people per day, four days a week, for the foreseeable future.
Teachers, agriculture workers and other employees were the target of the first day. In McFarland, the mobile clinic was the first time many residents could access the vaccine.
“For our community, this is huge,” said Aaron Resendez, superintendent of the McFarland Unified School District. “We’ve got to not just get our teachers, but also get the ag industry workers vaccinated because these are our parents. And our parents, unfortunately, don’t have the luxury of telecommuting. They are in the situation where, if they don’t work they don’t eat, they don’t pay the rent.”
By taking the vaccines to the patients, rather than making the patients go to the vaccines, Adventist Health is helping fix one of the most logistically challenging problems faced by local health officials. In an area as vast as Kern County, with pockets of residents without internet proficiency or easy access to transportation, it was always going to be difficult vaccinating everybody.
But the new mobile unit is a sign that the county is headed in the right direction, according to Jay Tamsi, co-founder of the Kern County Latino COVID-19 Task Force.
“All of it is really coming together,” he said. “When you take that vaccine there’s hope. Hopefully by the end of the year, we can get as many folks in Kern County vaccinated so that we can have a wonderful 2022 and live life as it should be.”
The task force is assisting Kern residents by helping them get signed up for appointments at the mobile health clinic and other locations. Elderly, disabled or non-English speakers can call the Project Abuelita helpline at 525-5900 for assistance.
Next up for the mobile health unit is a stop in east Bakersfield before it visits a gurdwara, a Sikh Temple, in an effort to reach another part of Kern County’s diverse population.
“Chevron is honored to partner with Adventist Health to expand access to health services for the underserved populations in Kern County,” Patty Canessa, a public affairs manager at Chevron, said in a news release. “We are enthusiastic to see the mobile unit start contributing to the improvement of health and well-being to our communities, which is especially critical as we strive to recover from the pandemic.”