Itzel Diaz, who works at The Unity Council in Fruitvale, celebrates getting her second dose with a selfie. Credit: Amir Aziz

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Last Friday, Itzel Diaz-Romo woke up excited to get her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Native American Health Center vaccination site. Diaz-Romo, who is the senior communications manager for the non-profit The Unity Council, was able to receive the shot as an essential worker involved in connecting community members to COVID-19 resources. Her appointment was at 10:30 a.m. but she showed up several minutes early, ready to get the jab.

Diaz-Romo was especially grateful to receive the vaccine in Fruitvale, where she lives and works. “The reality of the Fruitvale neighborhood is that people don’t have the time [to get vaccinated] and many people don’t have benefits. If you get sick and don’t work, you don’t make money and you don’t pay your bills,” she said. 

The Oaklandside went with Diaz-Romo to her appointment to help people better understand the process and why Itzel felt strongly about wanting to get vaccinated. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Why did you decide to get vaccinated?

This is my second dose, and I decided to get it because I think it is important to keep myself safe and my family, especially my family, safe. My mom has epilepsy and high blood pressure. If I’m not safe, she cannot be safe. I’ve had people in my family die because of COVID and I don’t want that to happen again. If I can prevent it by getting the vaccine, I’m going to do it.

A lot of people in your family have gotten sick, right?

Yeah, back in December. My husband works at a warehouse and one of his colleagues got sick [with COVID-19], and he got it too. I live in the back house of my mother-in-law’s house, and they all got sick. Somehow, I didn’t and tested negative. 

For three weeks I couldn’t sleep because I was so nervous that they were going to get worse. From my experience with other family members, one day they were fine and the next day we had to rush them to the hospital. They couldn’t breathe. I was worried the same thing was going to happen to my household.

The majority of them work in the food industry or in education, so they were able to receive the vaccine recently. It’s a weight off my shoulders that I don’t have to worry about their health and their safety. 

Diaz waits to get her second dose. Credit: Amir Aziz

How did you get your appointment? 

I was able to go to my appointment because I work for The Unity Council, a nonprofit organization that offers critical services and is very active in the COVID-19 crisis response. We’re considered essential workers, and we are providing services to the neighborhood. 

All of our staff was able to get vaccinated at the Native American Health Center. For us, it was easy to get an appointment because of where we work and what we do, but I know it hasn’t been easy for a lot of people because there’s not enough or it’s hard to get an appointment.

That’s why I feel this is really important because if you have access to it, just go get it. Take advantage of it; don’t throw away your shot. 

What was the first shot like?

I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous for my first shot. First of all, I hate needles, so that didn’t help.

And, even though I am well informed and I know the vaccine is approved by the FDA [Federal Drug Administration], I was still nervous. There are outlets that do everything they can to promote fake media and misinformation about the vaccine. Even if you don’t believe it, it’s still in the back of your head. 

But I was not going to make my decision based on stupid posts on Facebook. I was like, if the CDC is saying I need to get this, I’m going to get this. And I did. 

You just got the second shot right now. How did that feel compared to the first one?

The first time, my arm hurt a little bit. My arm is hurting right now, but when I received the first, my arm didn’t hurt until I got home. With the first shot, I just felt a little pinch. The guy who gave me my second dose was really good and I barely felt it. He was rubbing my arm a little more and said, “This is what I do with kids.” It actually worked! 

Diaz gets her final shot! Credit: Amir Aziz

In the community that you live in, what would you say is the number one fear that people have about getting the vaccine, and what would you say to people who are scared or unsure? 

I’m going to give you my mom as an example. She received her vaccine yesterday at Fremont High School. I told her, “You should go there and see if you’re eligible.” She cleans houses for a living and she didn’t want to get it because she was worried that if she got sick, she wouldn’t be able to work. The reality of the Fruitvale neighborhood— and not just Fruitvale but other low-income communities, too—is that people don’t have time and people don’t have benefits. If you get sick and you don’t work, you don’t make money and you don’t pay your bills. With a community that is living paycheck to paycheck, the idea of losing income even for a day is scary.

People haven’t been working or they’ve been working half of the time, and they’re barely making it. For my mom and my dad, that was a real fear. I told them, “What is going to be worse, to not work one day or not work for two weeks, three weeks, even a month because you’re sick?” I think putting things in perspective really helped them think, “You know what, I can’t afford to get sick,” and if you can’t afford to get sick then you have to get the vaccine.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.