The effort to Vax the Valley, spearheaded by the Rotary Club of San Lorenzo Valley, is closing in on its 2,000th vaccination since the start of the program in July of 2021, and its members are prickling with pride.
Justin Acton, a member of the SLV Rotary Club and owner of Boulder Creek Pizza and Pub, is celebrating that success with the agency’s various partners.
“It’s been wonderful to be part of this program. We’re so grateful to our community and partners for their support and leadership—it’s rewarding to provide access for our local neighbors to receive the Covid vaccination,” said Acton. “Things are going exceptionally well.”
The original landing site for the Vax the Valley program was Liberty Bank in Boulder Creek. In the summer of 2021, the bank offered its space for the first round of vaccinations, and ultimately became a financial contributor to the program.
Since its inception, there have been three clinics overseen by the Rotarians. Their pop-up location at Felton Community Hall, which is run by Santa Cruz Community Health, still offers vaccinations every Wednesday from 1-7pm. That locale’s success has led the Vax the Valley effort to team with other partners to expand the availability of the vaccines.
Adding to the optimism of the success is the new eligibility for youth to receive their vaccines—clinics are now offering shots to ages 5 and up.
In Boulder Creek, Encompass Community Services CEO Monica Martinez reached out to Rotary and other local organizations to lend a hand to the program. Covid-19 cases in the San Lorenzo Valley last fall were significantly higher than in other parts of the county. In addition, vaccine rates in SLV zip codes were far below the countywide rate.
That realization led Martinez to research ways to target “the younger, hard-to-reach, and vaccine-hesitant population in Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond,” and Boulder Creek Vax and Boost was launched. Hosted by Lone Wolf Kenpo Academy in downtown Boulder Creek, the pop-up location offers live music, food and tokens for food and drinks at local breweries.
“To reach our target population, it was important to us that Boulder Creek Vax and Boost was fun, accessible and a true community effort,” Martinez said. “We believe that residents are more likely to seek vaccine access if they hear about it from people they know and trust. Therefore, we worked hard to engage local Boulder Creek businesses and community leaders to sponsor our event. We were thrilled with the outpouring of support from the Boulder Creek community.”
Martinez recalled one of her favorite interactions of the Vax and Boost effort.
“Like any typical Saturday along Highway 9, a pack of motorcycle riders was passing through downtown Boulder Creek. Two of the bikers saw our sign hanging outside saying ‘Covid-19 Vaccines Today’ and pulled over, got off their bikes and got in line for a vaccine,” she said. “Following their shots, they stuck around to enjoy the live music, eat some pizza and thanked us before getting back on their bikes to ride away. When a passerby sees our sign or hears the live music, and then stops in to get a vaccine, we consider that a huge success.”
Acton says Boulder Creek Vax and Boost has been an “awesome clinic” that has helped vaccination rates there inch closer to the countywide average. About 73.55% of the county’s 270,000 or so residents have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and 79.91% have received their first dose. In the 95018 zip code, which includes much of Felton and Zayante, an impressive 94.26% have at least one dose and 88.13% are fully vaccinated. The 95005 and 95006 zip codes making up the rest of the San Lorenzo Valley have also climbed above the 70% mark for residents who have received their first shot.
“Given the importance of Covid-19 vaccines on the health of our community, every shot in the arm is a success. But to do so many in such a short period of time, particularly the first doses, it makes a big difference in a small community like Boulder Creek,” Martinez said.
Acton noted that eight of the nearly 90 people who received their vaccination at the clinic were first-time recipients.
“Our goal is equity and making this available for everyone,” said Acton.
He highlighted the efforts of Ann Bennett Young, a fellow Rotarian. In addition to working with the Senior Center at Highlands Park in Ben Lomond, she has been helping to coordinate the vaccinators while working with Dignity Health to secure the free vaccines.
The third Covid-19 vaccination clinic is a partnership between Santa Cruz Community Health, Santa Cruz County Public Health and Rotary, and is hosted at the Wee Kirk Church in Ben Lomond in the region’s new clinic. Vaccinations and boosters are given every Saturday from 10am-2pm, and Acton appreciates the easy access to the clinic.
“It’s so hard when you live in the San Lorenzo Valley if you don’t have access to transportation to get good quality medical care. To have the clinic open in Ben Lomond has been great,” said Acton, who volunteered at their first clinic on Feb. 12.
Acton also points to the generosity of local businesses as part of the effort to Vax the Valley.
“Kids who came to the Felton location for a vaccination were treated to gift certificates for free pizza, and complimentary train tickets from Roaring Camp Railroad in Felton,” he said. “While there is a core group of 5-7 Rotarians who volunteer at the various clinics, over 30 Rotarians have participated throughout this process. Our organization is really thrilled to take on this service project and happy to assist our community.”
One such Rotarian is Roger Wapner from Boulder Creek. In addition to serving as a Valley Women’s Club board member, Wapner has joined a number of county response teams: the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), and the County Emergency Response Team (CERT). Overall, he says, he’s been pleased with the outreach for vaccination accessibility.
“I feel that the clinics were successful on a number of levels. The hundreds of residents that used the clinics speak to the need for the local service,” he said. “I believe the county was successful in minimizing the spread of Covid and related hospitalizations by offering this service. Having walk-ins made a tremendous difference—I remember one clinic where we were down to our last dose and our last scheduled client. In comparison to both national and state statistics, Santa Cruz did wonderfully.”
He’s also impressed with the way clinic volunteers have shined.
“I recall a family that walked in with their children, where the parents were in an at-risk category but the kids were unwilling to have a shot,” he said. “Our nurses spent over two hours with the family offering reassurances, information, and support. I can’t imagine this level of care being available in another setting.”
Rotary Club of San Lorenzo Valley has launched a new website to help manage the multiple clinics it oversees. For information on vaccination locations, dates and times, visit vaxthevalley.com.