Imperial County was California’s COVID-19 epicenter in 2020. Many of its residents who tested positive for this virus suffered severe symptoms overwhelming the local hospitals. Many of them, unfortunately, are no longer with us due to the pandemic.
But there were heroes among us, the first responders, who remind us that only from fear, comes courage. Only from the darkness, can we truly feel the light. The nurses and doctors that faced the most difficult situations inspired many to get vaccinated.
According to data from the Imperial County Health Department, 94.3% of the Imperial County population has been vaccinated. From being the county that was in critical condition at the height of covid, it became one of the top vaccinated counties in the state.
“We have given thousands of vaccines in the Valley. The side effects of the vaccines have been very minimal,” said Dr. Tien Vo who took a big role in the vaccination process in Imperial County. “I didn’t hear any death side effects or adverse reactions due to vaccines. The covid rate has gone down significantly when the vaccines started as well as hospitalizations.”
Vo said that there was a lot of research done to show that vaccines were beneficial and now it is shown that people have a stronger immune system.
“People are not afraid of covid like they were two years ago. Treatment and vaccines are the perfect combos to fight against Covid,” Vo added.
As a border County, many residents from Mexicali, Baja California crossed the border to get their vaccines here.
“I decided to come here and vaccinate myself in Calexico rather than in Mexicali. Our vaccination schedule was behind compared to Mexico and I do business on this side,” said Adrian Flores, a resident of Mexicali. “It was easier and faster to do it here. It was too bureaucratic to get the vaccine in Mexico.”
Because health has no borders, a binational collaboration was established to help vaccinate people in the industrial sector of Mexicali. The binational collaboration was led by the Imperial County Health Department, UC San Diego Health, and the Consulate of Mexico in Calexico. Vaccination clinics were held at the Calexico East Port of Entry on March 9th, 2022.
The clinics had 1,500 doses of the vaccine available. The Mexicali-based businesses will cover the administrative costs to offer the vaccine while the Imperial County Health Department and UC San Diego Health provided the vaccine and staff for the two-day vaccination efforts.
The necessity to have the COVID vaccine offered to individuals in Mexicali arouse from the limited access to vaccines in Baja California and the availability of vaccines in California.
Vo said that 1/4 of his covid vaccinations were given to Mexicali residents.
The Calexico Wellness Center, a non-profit community clinic, was also a place where many Mexicali residents took their vaccinations. According to CEO Blanca Elena Morales Grijalva, from the total inoculations the clinic provided, 80% were from Mexicali.
Three years in, the fight against misinformation continues in the Imperial Valley and also, and they continue to encourage people to get the booster. The Calexico Wellness Center passes out flyers explaining their services starting at 2 a.m. and a second shift at 7 a.m. If the public has any interest questions about vaccinations and their effects, they answer them.
“If we are asked a question that needs more detail, we ask them to make an appointment with one of our medical practitioners so they can explain in detail,” Morales said.
Calexico Wellness Center never stopped working during the pandemic and continues to work for the community. The clinic owns a mobile vehicle where they can now take their services to the northern communities of Imperial County like Niland and Calipatria that are underserved.
But the spread of misinformation still continues in 2023. Dr. Elton Gomez, a regenerative medicine expert from Mexicali, Baja California, said that people still question the way vaccines were made and believe in hearsay about how it affects a person’s health.
“In my practice, I have seen how some people tend to believe in conspiracy theories or have alternative personal beliefs about health and medicine. Some people believe and spread false claims about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, or that these cause severe disease or contain fetal remains, or population control chips, and claims about the speed with which the vaccine has been developed, arguing that it was developed too quickly with a lack of testing and insufficient research,” said Dr. Gomez.
These high vaccination numbers show that Imperial County chose to go with science and didn’t listen to minority groups that tried to discredit this effort and its health benefits. After being in a critical place during the height of the 2020 pandemic, Imperial Valley people chose to protect themselves to look for a brighter future and defeat scrooge.