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As vaccines become widely available, some Kern County regions fall behind

As the coronavirus vaccine becomes more available to all who want it, divisions across Kern County have begun to form. Some areas, like Kernville, have seen the vast majority of residents take the vaccine, while others have fallen behind.

Data compiled by the California Department of Public Health shows stark divides between different parts of Kern. The CDPH separated the data by zip code, with the zip code encompassing much of Kernville, 93238, showing at 100 percent vaccination rate.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Keith Stephens, co-owner of Whitewater Voyages.

He said the easy availability of the vaccine coupled with a general acceptance of the idea of getting vaccinated contributed to the high vaccination rates.

The state’s figures could be slightly skewed. According to the data, more people got vaccinated than there are residents 12 and older in the Kernville zip code. And despite the high rates, the relatively small population size — 590 residents over 12 — means Kern County’s overall vaccination rate is not very impacted by Kernville.

Still, as Kernville heads into the summer, things appear to be looking up.

“It is much preferable to the unknown situation that we were faced with this time last year,” Stephens said. “People are really amazed and happy that the vaccination is available and grateful for it, and certainly there is a renewed optimism going forward.”

Other parts of Kern County have not been so successful.

Maricopa, with a population of 2,178, has just a 14 percent vaccination rate. Other areas like Boron, California City and Taft fare only a little better, according to the CDPH data.

California City Mayor Jeanie O’Laughlin said part of the issue could be a lack of communication between vaccination providers and local community leaders.

"I’m not sure that people realize what the opportunities are,” she said. “I know at one time, we supposedly had a mobile clinic. I saw it once and then I never saw it again. I don’t think it was communicated well enough.”

The demand appears to exist in California City for the vaccine. At the beginning of April, O’Laughlin said she waited in line for three and a half hours at a local drive-through clinic to be vaccinated.

“To the extent that we could have more communication about the availability, I think that would be very helpful,” she said. “I haven’t seen anything. I haven’t been informed, and hopefully as mayor I would be a little bit more informed as well.”

The tide may be turning, however. With teenagers now eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine, many are showing up to pop-up clinics hosted by the Kern County Latino COVID-19 Task Force, and they are bringing their parents with them.

“I’ve seen a really extreme increase in teens and their parents attending these vaccine clinics and these pop ups,” said Jay Tamsi, co-founder of the task force. “It’s a bit more encouraging when a teen wants to get the vaccine and is a little bit more convincing to the parents who are uncertain if they want to get the vaccine or not.”

From worries about the side effects to the inability to take off work to get vaccinated, many people have a variety of reasons why they have not been vaccinated yet. But Tamsi said the Task Force and others have continued to make an effort to vaccinate the entire public.

“We cannot stay complacent, stay at home, and think, ‘oh because other folks are getting vaccinated we are going to be OK,’” he said of people who may be hesitant to get the vaccine. “This virus is still out there. People are still contracting the virus, and we need to remind folks that they need to get vaccinated and if they need more information, there are many resources out there.”

Currently, 36.3 percent of Kern County’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, according to the Kern County Public Health Services Department. The statewide rate stands at 43.8 percent, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

Kern Public Health calls vaccination the safest and quickest path to protect both the individual and the public.

Those with questions about the vaccine can call 661-677-4177 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

A map of nearby vaccination locations can be found at kernpublichealth.com.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.