Union workers and their family members sat under a tent Saturday morning registering for COVID-19 vaccines. They brought with them internal scars from a year of the pandemic and hopes for a new, freer chapter in their lives.
Free to see elderly parents. Free to grocery shop without panic.
“I just want to be safe around everybody, and everybody be safe around me,” said Jim Black of East County. “You feel better, you feel safe. You just feel like you can be around people a little more.”
As a trucker, he has been in and out of a lot of stores. And while he wasn’t too concerned about getting the disease, “The first chance I had to get it, I just got it done,” he said.
Now Black, 57, plans to see his mother, turning 80, but he knows he still has to wear a mask.
“I feel that everyone should be getting it,” Black said as he waited in the observation area, a chapel at the Rolando union hall.
Black was among hundreds of workers who took advantage of a vaccine distributions at the United Domestic Workers union halls in Rolando and Kearny Mesa.
All received the Johnson and Johnson one-dose vaccine.
Among those invited to get their jab were union childcare, home healthcare, education, food service, custodial and transportation workers. American Medical Response employees and United Nurses Association of California volunteered their time to inoculate workers.
The wear and tear of the past year was evident as people spoke with Times of San Diego while waiting for their names to be called.
“I’m getting excited, but I’m really nervous,” said Carmen Reyes, who works as a custodian for Flagship Airport Services.
“We are exposed to a lot of people,” said the 58-year-old Chula Vistan. “Nobody thinks about us. So we were worried a lot.”
Reyes knows a lot of people who have contracted COVID, including one of her close friends who died from it.
Friends have told her they are fearful of getting the vaccine because of reported side effects.
“They should think about it,” Reyes said.
Alyssia McMorris, 28, of East County, who got vaccinated along with her parents, talked about the stress of buying food during the pandemic.
“You’re grocery shopping and immediately you get into your vehicle and sanitize because you have been in a public setting,” McMorris said.
“Grocery shopping has not been a quick trip. It’s such a normal task to be viewed as so daunting” she said. “It’s been a rough year.”
But sitting outside waiting to be vaccinated, McMorris turned to the future.
“I’m happy that I am at this point in this long year, that we are finally trying to be a part of the solution,” said. “That’s exactly why I am so excited.”
McMorris’ life also has been touched by COVID’s menace on family and friends.
“It’s also made me open my eyes and say, I should probably reach out to people more,” the young woman said. “Millions of people died this year, and it would be absolutely heartbreaking to find out that someone that you lost touch with was among one of those million.”
San Diego City Council President Jen Campbell Saturday donned her white coat and administered some shots at the union hall. She has equipped herself with a syringe at a senior center and at the Balboa Gym to help out in the past.
“I love it. This is my calling to be a physician,” Campbell said.
Referencing her 40 years as a physician, she said, “The City Council presidency is nice. I like it. But I’ll tell you what, helping people directly — that’s the greatest gift to be able to do.”
“We are saving lives,” Campbell continued. “And we are going to bring everyone into health and bring back our economy. It’s a wonderful thing.”
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria also was on hand.
“Events like these are really a best practice,” the mayor said. “We need a lot more of them in order to get where we want to go, which is to beat COVID-19.
“When you have trusted community partners, pairing up with health care professionals in communities that are hard hit, this is how you beat COVID-19.”
Gloria said the city continues to make its case for more vaccines, but shortages are the biggest obstacle.
The 42-year-old mayor — waiting until he’s eligible to get the vaccine — said he believes the Biden Administration vaccination plan is practical and with a certainty not seen with the Trump Administration.
“I believe that we are going from a period of scarcity, where we are now, to a period of abundance relatively soon,” Gloria said. “I just ask for people’s continued patience as we build out these systems. And when it’s your turn, get vaccinated.”
The doses that the county gets are given out as quickly as possible, he said. And the city’s focus is on areas with the largest concentration of infection, including south and southeast San Diego and communities of color.
“I think we are driving down the infection rate in those communities, and that’s how we get past COVID sooner rather than later,” Gloria said.
While he’s aware of vaccine hesitancy (even in his own family), he believes the vast majority of people will get the vaccine as soon as more becomes available.
The union’s vaccine distribution is important for frontline workers, including hotel workers needing protection from the virus, he said.
“As the mayor, I want those hotels open. It is a critical revenue source for our city,” Gloria said. “Get (vaccines) into areas where infection rates are the highest. When those numbers come down, things can start reopening.”
Doug Moore, executive director* of UDW AFSCME Local 3930, said his local would distribute shots weekly if supply existed. They have a waiting list for vaccines. The UDW local has 25,000 members in the county.
“When this opportunity came up, we jumped on it,” said Moore, who is also president of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council. “We’ve been asking to do this for several months. We just love opening up to the community and sharing.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report gave the wrong title for Doug Moore.
Updated at 10:50 a.m. March 22, 2021