SUNNYVALE (KPIX 5 / BCN) – Santa Clara County officials and the chief executive of San Jose-based Bloom Energy on Monday announced a $199,000 donation to the Valley Medical Center Foundation to cover the purchase cost of a mobile COVID-19 vaccine unit.
The vaccination unit will target residents who are homebound, elderly and disabled as well as residents that live in the county's underserved areas that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
To date, some 301,000 residents age 16 and older, roughly 18 percent of the county's population, have been fully vaccinated.
"We know there are many more that we could reach ... with this mobile unit, and that is going to make all the difference in saving lives," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Monday at a briefing to announce the donation.
Bloom Energy raised the roughly $200,000 after opening a COVID-19 testing lab at its manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale.
CEO KR Sridhar and COO Susan Brennan conceived of the fundraising idea last summer that offered rapid, cheaper COVID-19 testing, to South Bay corporations, and in exchange asked for a $5 donation per test.
Sridhar and Brennan secured the University of Illinois' "SHIELD T3 PCR" testing unit, from their alma mater, that offered overnight results for $30 per test, using saliva samples, with 99.9% accuracy. At the time in the late summer of 2020, private testing was much more expensive, and the ask for $5 donation was a "no brainer", said Sridhar.
"What choice do the local companies have? Either they're going to pay $35 and get a same day turnaround test or pay $100 and get a four-day turnaround test," said Sridhar.
"We had immediate, immediate adoption and the $5 was a very easy sell," said Brennan.
Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county's COVID-19 testing and vaccination officer, said the mobile unit will enable the county to tackle vaccination inequities among communities that may not be able to access county-operated vaccination sites.
The new mobile vaccine unit will replace the current vehicles, which are rental vans, and will be staffed by County Health employees. The new unit is currently on order, and will hit the road "in a few weeks", according the Fenstersheib.
By going into communities, the new mobile unit may help convince citizens who are "vaccine hesitant".
"Getting information from their trusted leaders in that community, seeing their friends and relatives and neighbors getting vaccinated and getting a sense that 'I feel safer, I feel better.' And eventually once it's there, once you make that decision, then you need to just have easy access, and then you get vaccinated," Fenstersheib told KPIX 5.
Fenstersheib also urged residents to sign up for a vaccination appointment via the county's website, sccfreevax.org, as soon as they become eligible.
"Get an appointment when it is your turn and hopefully, by the end of the summer, we will be a safe community (and) back to normal," he said. "That's my hope."
Officials gathered for Monday's event offered a message to corporations who are still exploring ways to help during the pandemic.
"Doing good feels almost better than making good. But when you can do good and make good. There's nothing like it. Come on let's step up!" said Sridhar.
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