Phillip Caughell lost his wife to COVID-19 last year. She was just 49 years old. Wiping tears from his face, he said it’s been the hardest experience of his life.
“We found out she had COVID-19, and then 10 days later she passed away,” Caughell, a Stockton resident, said. “She was supposed to be the one pushing me in a wheelchair.”
On Wednesday the 61-year-old truck driver got his COVID-19 vaccine at the Stockton Arena, where Kaiser Permanente, the City of Stockton, and 4 other health care organizations opened a mass vaccination hub.
It was an emotional but hopeful moment for Caughell, who said he is incredibly grateful to be vaccinated and looks forward to reuniting with his stepson.
More than 1,200 people were vaccinated on the first day of the hub’s opening April 7, including those ages 50-64, who most recently became eligible for vaccination.
The opening brings a sense of relief to the communities of the Central Valley, which have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the state and are predominately communities of color.
“COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on California’s low-income, Latinx, Black, and Asian Pacific Islander communities — and on workers who play essential roles in our communities, such as providing health care, grocery, and cleaning services,” said Corwin Harper, Kaiser Permanente Central Valley senior vice president and area manager. “This vaccination hub will broaden the opportunity for equitable, optimal health and well-being throughout the Central Valley.”
As part of a broad strategy to jumpstart vaccine access, this is the fourth mass vaccination hub organized in part by Kaiser Permanente after the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Cal Poly Pomona, and Cal State Bakersfield in Kern County.
It’s open 7 days a week to members and non-members and has a capacity to fulfill up to 5,400 vaccinations per day, dependent upon allocation from the state. The hub is expected to stay open for 90 days, contingent on vaccine supply. The number of available appointments at each site is highly dependent on the available supply of vaccine. Appointments can be scheduled at California’s My Turn vaccine scheduling website, myturn.ca.gov.
A weight lifted
Opening day brought people from all walks of life. Jasmyn Medel, 23, a middle school recreation specialist in Stockton, was getting vaccinated prior to soon returning to in-person teaching.
“I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders,” she said while waiting for her 15 minutes of post-vaccination observation time to pass. “We have to start somewhere to get back to normal again.”
Medel is elated to see her students again in person, and encourages everyone to get vaccinated, saying, “There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Jelissa Cummings, a special projects director for the Kaiser Permanente Manteca Medical Center and facility operations lead for the Stockton hub, emphasized the seamlessness of the door-to-door experience.
Community members are in and out in under 22 minutes at the arena, which is accessible by public transportation. The more than 100 staff members from Kaiser Permanente and other health care partners, including way finders, nurses, pharmacists, and triage physicians and staff, ensure the efficiency of the operation.
“This community needed a vaccine site front and center, and Kaiser Permanente and our great partnerships have made it possible,” Cummings said. “It’s fulfilling to see the smiles on our staff’s faces and on those coming in to get vaccinated.”
This was true for Kaiser Permanente member Jerry Hernandez, 53, a night cashier at a gas station in Lathrop. After getting vaccinated, he said, “I am happy to do my part in helping get things opened back up again and get this virus behind us.”
Kaiser Permanente is now administering vaccinations to members and non-members age 50 and up; those who work in health care, education, childcare, food and agriculture, emergency services, and public transportation; and those who live or work in long-term care. Vaccinations for people age 16 and up start April 15. For more information, visit kp.org/covidvaccine.