Once a COVID hotspot, this poverty-stricken county now has an 86% vaccination rate

Remote Imperial County is one of the poorest regions in California. Yet its COVID vaccination rate is tied with San Francisco, just behind affluent Marin and Santa Clara counties. 86% of people have now been fully vaccinated in Imperial — a majority Latino county where hospitals were inundated by sick and dying patients in the spring.

Imperial is defying the odds and that gives officials hope for other remote or disadvantaged areas.

“In general, there is a correlation with income and vaccination rates, but I think what Imperial County data tells us is that it can be overcome, it just takes effort,” Fabian Rivera-Chavez, assistant professor of pediatrics and biological sciences at UC San Diego, told CalMatters.

It’s not clear why Imperial has done so well vaccinating its residents. Experts cite the strength of local nonprofits, hospitals, and employers in the agriculture industry that have stepped up to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Experience may be another reason. Because the county was hit so hard by the last surge, residents take the virus seriously.

Like other counties, Imperial is still seeing an uptick in hospitalizations. The health care community is working to bring the vaccination rate even higher to lessen the strain on the health care system. The effort is largely through Medi-Cal, which serves more than half the county’s residents.