Sky Link TV, a Chinese television station in San Francisco, produced a video of wheelchair bound Shek-Woon Ng getting his second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in June 2021. Ng is 107 years old and has been homebound in recent years. He retired at the age of 99 from his acupuncture practice located on Stockton Street in Chinatown. His son, Jonathan Ng, was hesitant about giving his elderly father the vaccine, initially. “The main reason we got it is that my mom got vaccinated first,” he admitted. His mom, Fung Chow Ng, is 80 years old. “I feel relieved now,” she said on camera after her husband received his vaccine jab.
World Journal reporter Han Li tweeted about Ng on June 12: “107-year-old Dr. Shek-Woon Ng 吳石垣, the first Chinese licensed acupuncturist in California, got his 2nd dose today, at his San Francisco home. The ‘Homebound’ vaccine program has helped more than 100 seniors with disabilities to get the vaccines.”
As the delta variant makes its presence felt across the state, it’s unfortunately time once again to pay attention to rising COVID-19 infections in The City. San Francisco has reported over 900 cases in the past two weeks. Data from San Francisco Department of Public Health shows that the rolling seven-day average of new cases more than doubled from July 7 to July 13. The latest update shows an average of 88 new cases a day.
While three out of every four residents in The City have received at least one dose, it’s doubtful San Francisco has reached herd immunity yet. So we’re back to worrying about our vulnerable population: the elderly and the health-compromised, especially those who are unvaccinated. So how do we convince them that vaccines can save lives?
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist in Washington DC, recognized for being one of the first to alert the public on the pandemic risk of COVID-19, calls the delta variant “a 2.0 pandemic variant,” which is two times more transmissible than the original strain and about 50 times more transmissible than the alpha variant. In terms of severity, one study shows that it is 4.9 times more severe than the original strain, he said. In other words, there is a 4.9 times greater risk of hospitalization than the original strain.
The vaccines are an effective strategy against all these strains because they reduce the severity of the disease, even if infected. For those who are unvaccinated, there is no armor against the virus.
“It’s clear that this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said Dr. José Montero, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support. “People who are unvaccinated account for a majority of the new infections, hospitalizations and deaths. We’ve seen outbreaks of cases in different parts of the country, especially those that have low vaccination coverage,” he added.
By now, it’s commonly acknowledged that the unvaccinated are a difficult group to reach. Either they’ve shrouded themselves in a web of disinformation and distrust or they are unable to transport themselves to vaccine appointments. Seniors who are vaccine hesitant and those who are homebound are part of this group.
California Department of Aging data, sent in an email, shows that in comparison to counties like Bakersfield (where an average of 80 percent of seniors are vaccinated), Reno (64 percent), and Sacramento (83 percent), 91 percent of San Francisco seniors have received at least one vaccine dose.
This statistic looks great, unless we look at it granularly.
It turns out that about one in four seniors in Chinatown are still unprotected against the virus. And, in Ingleside, a minority-majority neighborhood, more than 700 seniors are yet to receive a vaccine dose. The evidence, however, does not indicate that seniors from low-income communities of color are most impacted. In fact, in the Russian Hill/Polk area, with 54 percent of the population being white, an astounding 1,600 seniors remain unvaccinated.
There is one thing to be willfully negligent when it comes to getting vaccinated, and another to be incapable of getting oneself vaccinated due to age, language, technology barriers or physical impairments.
This latter group was the focus of a vaccination drive led by District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, SFDPH, Self-Help for the Elderly and All American Medical Group, a coalition of over 250 independent physicians. On May 15, the group organized door-to-door vaccine services to homebound seniors and handicapped individuals.
According to Joseph Woo, president of AAMG, the first effort to vaccinate homebound individuals, on May 15, had 15 teams each with a volunteer social worker, physician and driver. “It was very labor intensive, given the 15-minute monitoring time for a reaction and the need to make a second trip a month later to fully vaccinate the patient.” They successfully vaccinated 130 individuals who would otherwise not have made it to the vaccination centers. Ng was one of them.
The second effort in June was focused on reaching patients where they shopped, and in those two days they reached another 30 individuals. But more importantly, it opened up “an opportunity for physicians to dispel any misconceptions about vaccinations,” said Woo.
In my experience, expert opinions are great for those who are vaccine-ready, but often don’t move the needle for the vaccine-wary. That was the case for an acquaintance who resisted being vaccinated for a number of reasons, including being worried about falling ill after getting the shot.
Finally, it was the video of centenarian Ng, looking unperturbed as he got his second vaccine shot, that convinced her to get her jab. I’m happy to report that she is now fully vaccinated, and none the worse for it.
Jaya Padmanabhan is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan.