Ensuring Equitable COVID-19 Vaccinations for all Angelenos

Pilipino Workers Center (PWC)

As more COVID-19 vaccines become available, we cannot forget the essential and domestic workers who helped us through this unprecedented year.  However, with the many challenges and complexities of a mass vaccination roll-out, essential workers are being left-behind as they continue to still experience some of the highest infection and death rates in Los Angeles County.

Workers who cannot work from home and must interact with people as part of their jobs have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Their work is essential and places them at risk.  They are the workers at grocery stores, individuals at food processing factories as well as the domestic workers who care for our elderly, children and those with health conditions.

“We know from the data that fewer than 10% of people in communities where essential workers live are receiving vaccinations, even if they are eligible”, says Dr. Rosemary Veniegas, CCF’s Senior Program Officer in Health who is also co-chairing the County’s Aligning Resources for Mass Vaccination (ARMV) committee that is ensuring fair and equitable vaccine distribution for the County’s most in need. “Neighborhoods such as Vernon, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park are well below the County’s vaccination rate.”

The barriers to getting vaccinated can be immense for some Angelenos.  Information on how to get a vaccine isn’t always available in the numerous languages spoken throughout Los Angeles. There are technology barriers to booking online appointments as many individuals only have a simple flip-phone and limited Internet access.  Also, many essential workers rely on public transportation, so getting vaccinated at a super-site like Dodger stadium means taking time off work to ride multiple buses only to be turned away because these sites do not allow walk-ins.

Throughout the pandemic, the California Community Foundation has been working with community groups across the County to ensure essential workers and vulnerable populations have fair and equitable access to COVID-19 testing, essential protective gear and now the ability to get vaccinated.

One of those groups is the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) who has been mobilizing support for not only the Filipino community, but also collaborates with other groups representing Black and Latinx essential workers. A large percentage of these “essential workers” are immigrants (both legal permanent residents and undocumented individuals) who have been working in the frontlines since the beginning of the pandemic. The lack of access to the vaccination is one of the reasons these workers will continue to be disproportionately impacted by this virus.

“I think the shift away from the essential workers is problematic in terms of an equitable rollout of the vaccine,” said Aquilina Soriano Versoza, PWC’s Executive Director. “These essential workers don’t have the privilege of working from home, so they are required to be out in the community.”  Aquilina also notes a big factor in the spread of COVID-19 amongst essential workers is the housing crisis in California that forces people to live in over-crowded conditions that spread the virus faster.

One of the groups PWC supports are domestic workers, those employed in home healthcare, as caregivers or in board and cares. Given the important role these workers play, they are still having challenges to getting vaccinated. Some are undocumented or not on their organization’s payroll and lack the paperwork needed to get vaccinated.

PWC provides medical and cash assistances to those workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 and do not have sick pay. They provide text-based trainings in multiple languages on how workers can keep themselves and the clients they care for safe from COVID-19. And now PWC is helping workers get vaccinated by navigating the complex appointment scheduling websites and organizing mobile vaccination vans to come into the community directly.

And yet during this hectic year, PWC takes time to recognize the numerous essential workers in their community who have died from COVID-19.  Their social media feed is filled with video tributes to the friends that they have lost to this terrible disease.

One thing PWC emphasizes amidst all the calamities thrown their way, is that when communities work together, they can truly make a difference in the lives of others. This is called the “Bayanihan spirit”, a Filipino custom of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal.


This story is part of a series that explores the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

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