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Kern's expanded eligibility, availability attracts Los Angeles residents in search of vaccine

Last week word started to get out that Kern County was getting more COVID-19 vaccines but hadn’t been using them. People in Los Angeles County, where appointments have been harder to come by, took notice.

Lillian Ng, a resident of Alhambra just east of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley, said she had been trying to find a leftover dose at local pharmacies without any luck for weeks.

Then Friday night, she stumbled upon a post on Reddit noting that some people in the Los Angeles area had luck getting vaccinations at Cal State Bakersfield’s mass vaccination site. On Saturday, she and her husband decided to make the drive north.

“We just decided to take the chance,” she said.

Within 30 minutes of arriving, she had been given a dose of the vaccine without any problem. She had even asked people volunteering outside whether she might be turned away for being from outside the county, but no one discouraged her.

Dina Madden, operations lead for Cal State Bakersfield’s COVID-19 Vaccination Hub, said that while they have been allowing walk-ins from outside the county, the primary goal of the hub has been to serve those in Kern.

“Our primary obligation and mission is to serve the people who live here,” Madden said.

She noted that the CSUB hub received a little extra attention from some notable figures over the last few days. Gov. Gavin Newsom gave the hub accolades during his visit on Friday, and Wil Wheaton, an actor best known for his role on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” posted on Facebook about getting a dose of Pfizer on Saturday.

“There’s hardly anyone here,” he wrote. “It’s not a bad drive, and the entire process was simple and streamlined.”

Last week had been slower, but Madden noted that Saturday was the hub’s busiest day yet with 2,160 people getting the vaccine. On Monday, the facility was on track to beat that number. Madden believes that news about eligibility opening up means that more people in Kern County will get the vaccine.

“We’re super hopeful that this change will help increase our vaccination rates here in Kern,” Madden said.

Kern County Public Health Services Director Brynn Carrigan affirmed Madden’s stance that the goal of local doses are to vaccinate those who live or work in Kern County, and the state allocates those doses with that in mind. However, Carrigan added that sites are not turning down walk-ins and getting vaccines out helps with the goal of reducing transmission.

“We’re not turning people away,” she said.

Carrigan said that Kern County Public Health Services is trying to make sure Kern residents know that they’re eligible and able to get the vaccine. Members of the department are out in the community with booths at grocery stores, canvassing door to door and at other locations answering questions about the vaccine, and helping people schedule appointments. The model looks a lot like the process of letting the community know about testing opportunities, Carrigan said.

“People should continue to look for us,” Carrigan said. “We’re encouraging those who live and work here to get vaccinated as soon as they possibly can. It’s the next step to getting us back to our normal lives.”