By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Bill Watanabe has two very precious reasons for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. During a press conference on Tuesday, the former executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center shared his vaccine experience.

“My mother-in-law lives with us, she’s 105 years old and I just became a grandfather. Our daughter is very cautious, wanted to make sure we didn’t pass it on to her, so we were very happy we got the vaccine.”

Sue Tsushima cradles her great-grandchild Micah Chang. Bill Watanabe said protecting loved ones was one of the main reasons he got vaccinated. (Photo courtesy of Bill Watanabe)

Watanabe received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Feb. 9 at the Kaiser Permanente on Sunset, followed by the second dose on March 2.

“I felt tired for two days, but by the third day I was fine,” he said. “Now that I’m vaccinated, I’m looking forward to get back, hopefully soon, to return to a more normal life.”

The media event was part of California’s efforts to update Asian American communities on the progress on the fight against COVID-19.

Dr. Tung Nguyen, professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, said the data on the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson is “incredible.” All three vaccines have gone through rigorous clinical trials and are proven to be safe and highly effective against COVID-19.

“The best vaccine is the one you can get as soon as possible,” Nguyen said. “It’s a little like asking which one of my children is better. All are great.”

At the same time, the physician emphasized that everyone must continue to follow safety protocols to prevent the spread. On Thursday there were 1,378 new cases of COVID and 101 deaths in Los Angeles County. A little over a year since the first cases were reported in the region, more than 1.2 million people have tested positive for the disease and 22,304 people have died.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned the Board of Supervisors this week that while case numbers and the testing-positivity rate in the county have declined precipitously in recent weeks, things could easily worsen if residents become lax about infection-control measures.

Yolanda Richardson, state secretary of the Government Operations Agency, said there is encouraging news in the declining positivity rates and the increasing number of vaccine does. The state has partnered with Blue Shield to create a network capable of facilitating vaccine distribution with each of California’s 61 local health jurisdictions.

California has worked aggressively to accelerate vaccine distribution, setting a target of delivering a minimum of 2 million doses to the hardest-hit quarter of the state as measured by the Healthy Places Index.

Los Angeles County will officially move into the state’s less-restrictive red tier Monday, with the state achieving 2 million vaccine doses in hard-hit communities and prompting an easing of requirements for counties to advance in the economic-reopening blueprint.

Richardson urged Asian Pacific Americans, when it’s their turn, to sign up for the vaccine at the state’s portal,, or call (833) 422-4255.

“ serves as state’s front door to getting vaccinated,” she said. “For those without Internet there is a hotline with multiple language options. Vaccine is free and anyone can get vaccinated, including those who are undocumented.”

As the rollout of the vaccine continues, access and equity have been ongoing concerns. Manju Kulkarni, executive director of A3PCON (Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council), said her organization has focused on reaching out to low-income, refugee and other disadvantaged sectors. She emphasized the need for disaggregated data that would better target API communities where they actually live.

“For vaccinations, trust is paramount. Many congregate around churches, temples, CBOS (community based organizations) and cultural centers. This is where much of the work needs to be done,” Kulkarni said.

Audrey Alo

Among the hardest-hit populations during the pandemic have been Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Audrey Alo, president of the Pacific Islander Health Partnership, said that NHPIs have higher incidents of COVID and a death rate higher than any other race.

As of March 10, there have been 15,407 cases and 324 deaths among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in California. Just 0.4 percent of NHPIs have received at least one dose of vaccine. By comparison, 3 percent of Blacks, 12.5 percent of Asian Americans, 18.6 percent of Latinos and 32 percent of whites have been administered at least one shot.

“The reason why Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders are vulnerable is comorbidities such as heart disease and diabetes. They are also overrepresented in big-risk jobs such as healthcare support, warehousing, food services,” Alo said.

Alo, whose office is in the Lundquist Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, admitted she was initially hesitant to get the vaccine, but that she came to a realization after talking with younger co-workers.

“They said, ‘You know, Auntie, didn’t you get vaccinated for polio, chicken pox and measles?’ That hit me. I get vaccinated every year for flu and I have comorbidities. Why not get vaccinated so everyone can be safe and we can get back to whatever our new normal is going to be?” Alo said.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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