A COVID-19 vaccination site in Northern California will close for two days this week to host an in-person anime event, prompting backlash from would-be vaccine recipients and anime fans, The Sacramento Bee reported Monday.
The vaccine site at The Grounds, an events venue in Roseville, will be closed Thursday and Friday, according to the County of Placer’s website.
SacAnime will hold a swap meet at The Grounds from Friday to Sunday. There will be more than 100 exhibitors, according to the SacAnime website, which also stipulates that attendees must pre-register and wear masks.
A county spokesperson confirmed to the Bee that the vaccine site closure this week is due to preexisting events planned at the venue. The clinic will extend its hours into the evening Monday through Wednesday to maximize the number of doses administered this week, compensating for the closures, the spokesperson said.
She also stated that around 90% of this week’s approximately 5,400 appointments at the site are second-dose appointments, meaning that “the impact on first dose appointments available in that time window is not very large.” The county did not anticipate major issues with administering second doses, the spokesperson told the Bee.
The move outraged people on social media, who criticized event organizers both for restricting vaccine access and hosting an in-person event during the pandemic. The CDC’s latest guidance on large gatherings is to continue to avoid them when possible.
The comments section of a recent SacAnime Facebook post was populated with upset locals, some of whom worried about delayed second vaccine doses and an oncoming coronavirus surge.
SacAnime responded in a comment of its own, saying the event was taking place on a date designated and controlled by the venue, prompting some commenters to question why the event organizers hadn’t asked to change it.
Others wondered whether SacAnime was sidestepping COVID-19 guidelines by labeling its event a “swap meet” instead of a convention. Under California’s reopening framework, convention center events must remain closed, but swap meets are permitted at 50% capacity in counties in the red tier of COVID-19 activity.
A number of SacAnime fans said they would boycott its events over the controversy.
In an emailed statement to HuffPost, SacAnime’s communications director reiterated that the event was planned months in advance and pushed back on the accusations from critics.
“When we knew there might be an issue with the vaccine site we reached out to them and offered to keep our event out of their area. They declined
due to already scheduling more hours Monday through Wednesday,” the statement read. “We realize how that looks but we work closely with the fairgrounds and the decision to continue was taken.”
The statement also said that there would be “very little impact to the vaccination site or schedule” and that any speculation that the name of the event was changed in order to bypass COVID-19 rules was “vastly untrue.”
“This event is just a vendor area ... with a highly reduced amount of attendees allowed inside. There are no panels, cosplay meetups, dance, or any other event that would compromise the guidelines, and the Placer County fairgrounds is fully aware of what the event entails. Overall we stand by working with county officials and will continue to do so in a safe and healthy manner.”
Starting Thursday, all adults ages 50 to 64 in California will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. That means that on the first two days of wider vaccine eligibility, The Grounds clinic will be closed.