FH vax clinic

Walgreens pharmacist Eileen Lee gives Foothill College student David Park a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a May 22 vaccine clinic on campus.

When Foothill College student Naylea Macias received a text from the school informing her of a free vaccine clinic on campus May 22, she said it felt like the perfect time to get her first shot.

Macias had been watching friends and family get vaccinated and knew she also wanted to, but she wasn’t sure how to find an appointment at a convenient time and location. When the text came from Foothill, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I knew where it was and how it was happening, so it made me feel more prepared,” said Macias, a 2020 Los Altos High School graduate.

That was one of the reasons Foothill decided to run the vaccine clinic on campus – to give students the chance to get vaccinated in a convenient and familiar location, with the aim of “decreasing barriers and increasing access,” said Angela Su, director of Foothill’s pharmacy technology program.

“The genesis of this (clinic was) trying to encourage our students and our community to get vaccinated,” Su said.

At the May 22 clinic, 67 students got vaccinated, which is 75% of those who made appointments. According to Su, that’s a typical percentage based on information from other vaccine sites. The clinic at Foothill was run in partnership with Walgreens, whose pharmacists administered the shots. Foothill students, staff and others also volunteered at the clinic. The college has an existing relationship with Walgreens, with Foothill pharmacy technician students completing externships at Walgreens.

Walgreen’s district manager Clarisse Tu said she hoped by bringing the clinic to campus, more students would be able to get vaccinated.

“Really, it’s just our effort to try to help as many people get vaccinated as possible,” Tu said.

Expanding access

According to Su, part of making the clinic accessible was publicizing that the vaccines are available and free for students from all backgrounds, including those who are undocumented, don’t have insurance or are international students.

Another aim was to provide access for students of color, given the racial disparities in both COVID-19 infection and vaccination rates, said Ram Subramaniam, dean of Foothill’s STEM division. In Santa Clara County, 74% of residents ages 12 and up have gotten at least one vaccine dose, while for Latino residents that number is

just 56%.

Getting students vaccinated is also an important part of working toward reopening Foothill for in-person classes in the fall, Subramaniam said.

“We are anxious to be back on campus,” he said. “We do not like Zoom education and we want to be here to serve our students – and I think our students want that from us. To do that safely, we do have to have as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Seeing society open back up and knowing that school may be resuming in person this fall, Foothill student David Park decided getting vaccinated was the best way to protect both himself and his sister, who has pre-existing health issues.

“I think it’s just a no-brainer to vaccinate yourself and try to do your best to keep your family safe,” Park said.

Even though the vaccines are new, and Park said he feels there are still a lot of unknowns, he believes vaccination isn’t just about protecting himself and his own family, but also doing his part to help society achieve herd immunity. At the same time, he said it can be frustrating to see others not getting vaccinated.

“But the only thing you can do is control what you can control, and try to help out society in the way you can,” Park said.

Vaccine hesitancy

Both Subramaniam and Su talked about working to address vaccine hesitancy. The college held a four-part COVID-19 vaccine education series, covering topics such as explaining how the vaccines work and debunking myths around them.

According to Subramaniam, people have various reasons for their reluctance to get vaccinated, including having pre-existing medical conditions, misconceptions about needing to pay for the vaccine and worries about immigration status being a barrier.

“And of course, the numerous false information that’s out there on the internet about vaccines,” he added.

When trying to address the worries of someone who is unsure about being vaccinated, Subramaniam said it is important to be respectful and empathetic. Su said she always asks why the person is hesitant, so she can understand their particular concerns.

“If you know the ‘why,’ then you can gently address it in a way that’s appropriate,” Su said.

Although the May 22 vaccine clinic drew 67 students, it had capacity for 150. Subramaniam said the limitation isn’t vaccine supply at this point, but recruiting people to get their shots.

The first on-campus clinic was organized in just a couple weeks, but Subramaniam said Foothill is planning to hold more in the future and will think through ways to further expand access, including potentially offering rides to the vaccination event.

For more information on getting vaccinated in Santa Clara County, visit sccfreevax.org.

To watch Foothill College’s COVID vaccine education series, visit foothill.edu/sli/events/covid-series.html.