FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – Latest Fresno County data shows that 66% of the eligible population is vaccinated with at least one dose. Although that number has increased, it still lags behind the Bay Area and areas of Southern California, like Los Angeles and San Diego.

“We’re really trying to work with all of the communities to educate them and really answer their questions,” Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said. “We really want to work with individuals and just have that conversation. Sometimes they just need to hear from people that are credible messengers in those communities.”

Local organizations, like Cultiva La Salud, have continued to try to do that, recently taking their efforts to schools to reach students and staff along with their families. Their efforts have also revealed why some people are hesitant.

Genoveva Islas with Cultiva La Salud said there is fear among those who are undocumented and there’s also concern about being charged for the vaccine, along with other challenges that differentiate the Central Valley from other parts of the state.

“We live in an area where there are provider shortages, we don’t have enough physicians to serve the population. We live in counties and communities in the Central Valley where there isn’t good public transportation,” said Genoveva Islas, the executive director of Cultiva La Salud.

Islas said the lack of public transportation can sometimes keep people from being able to get to a vaccination site.

In addition, Islas said that not everyone in the Valley has access to the internet or can speak, read or write in English, which can create another barrier when trying to access the vaccine.

The impact of low vaccination rates has been felt in local hospitals. While statewide, the positivity rate has improved, hospitals in the Central Valley are still caring for high volumes of patients with COVID-19.

Congressman Jim Costa said he’s been in contact with Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, hoping to get more staff to hospitals.

“He immediately responded to our call for help by providing additional nurses. In addition to that working to facilitate the relationship with the state and FEMA to provide additional federal support,” Costa said.

On the ground, Islas said they’re holding education sessions in the community and identifying schools or churches where they can go and answer people’s questions about the vaccine.

“There are a lot of these preexisting conditions, the inequities that we experienced before COVID that are factors to consider as to why we didn’t start at the same level and why it’s going to take extra effort to get us to the point where we have equal number of individuals vaccinated here in the Valley,” Islas said. “So there is definitely a lot of work to be done.”

Vaccine clinics being held in Fresno County can be found here.

Cultiva La Salud in partnership with Saint Agnes and other groups will be holding a vaccine clinic at Yosemite Middle School Library Center on Oct. 8 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.