'Joints for Jabs': Long Beach groups encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations

There are pop-up vaccination sites and then there is this one-day pop-up site. 

In an effort to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations as case numbers in Los Angeles County surge upward, the pop-up site will open Saturday, July 24 at Houghton Park in Long Beach.

A community coalition in Long Beach plans to offer one free marijuana joint to the first 150 city residents 21 and older who get the jab at the upcoming one-day pop-up clinic.

The campaign dubbed "Joints for Jabs" is getting lots of interest on social media. The campaign is a partnership between Healthy Long Beach and the Long Beach Collective Association a nonprofit cannabis trade organization.

While the name is provocative, its purpose is serious. As of July 6, only 56.3% of all Long Beach residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines, leaving a big gap toward herd immunity. 

Many of the unvaccinated are young people of color. So Healthy Long Beach heard that Joints for Jabs had been successful in other parts of the country — organizers said — why not try it here? 

"We all want to have a safe summer and enjoy one another's company even as the pandemic continues on and recreation opens up," said James Suazo, executive director of Long Beach Forward, a local community organization that launched the Healthy Long Beach campaign in January.

The campaign has used door-to-door and direct outreach to spread public health education about COVID-19 resources and ensure equitable vaccination efforts across the city.

"Cannabis is part of our Long Beach culture, and to safely share a joint without contributing to the spread of COVID-19, we must all do our part to get vaccinated,'' Suazo said. "With the ‘Delta’ variant becoming the dominant COVID-19 strain in Los Angeles County, we want our unvaccinated neighbors to catch a free marijuana strain instead so we can protect each other."

In a news release issued by Long Beach Forward, the Long Beach Collective Association said, "The LBCA supports public health efforts. Cannabis products provide safe access to alternative medicine. Supporting vaccination efforts for our communities falls in line with LBCA stance on promoting healthy living and prevention. The LBCA is excited to be a part of this community campaign."

The "Joints for Jabs" effort comes at a time of an alarming increase in COVID cases in Los Angeles County.

The county on Tuesday reported 1,103 new COVID cases -- the fifth straight day the number topped 1,000. That lifted the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,259,772. The county also reported 12 new fatalities due to the virus, increasing the death toll to 24,554.

In addition, the rolling seven-day average rate of people testing positive for the virus was 2.9% as of Tuesday, up from 2.8% on Monday and well above the 0.3% rate from mid-June.

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State figures, meanwhile, showed that hospitalizations due to COVID in L.A. County were pushing the 400 mark, reaching 398. That was up from 376 on Monday. There were 94 people in intensive care, up from 85 a day earlier.

While the hospitalization numbers are still relatively low compared to the patient totals during the winter surge that reached 8,000, the slow and steady increase in recent weeks is sparking concern among health officials – who say the increase highlights the importance of vaccinations.

Long Beach's one-day clinic is scheduled to take place on Saturday, July 24, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Houghton Park, 6301 Myrtle Ave. Vaccinations and tokens will be distributed to the first 150 Long Beach residents in attendance while supplies last. Children and young people age 12 to 20 can also receive vaccinations but will not be eligible for tokens.

Shots will be administered by employees of the city's health department, but the city is not co-sponsoring the event, the Long Beach Post reported.

"Joints for Jabs" is just the latest effort to incentivize people to get vaccinated.

The county is also continuing to offer incentives. Through Thursday, anyone who gets vaccinated at sites operated by the county, the city of Los Angeles or St. John's Well Child and Family Center will be entered for a chance to win one of seven concert ticket prizes, including box seats at the Hollywood Bowl and tickets to Staples Center concerts including Celine Dion, Grupo Firma, Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and Dan+Shay.

A random sample taken by FOX 11 Wednesday found most people supporting the concept. 

One man said, "I don’t think it encourages drug use and it may actually get someone vaccinated."

He added he was worried how quickly the variant was spreading. 

Other young women said it was a good idea. 

"People who aren’t sure may get off the fence post and get vaccinated," she said. 

Click here for more information on the Long Beach event.

City News Service contributed to this report.