Hundreds of vaccine appointments canceled at Golden Gate Fields following protest

An East Bay vaccination clinic was evacuated on Thursday and now there is an argument over blame.

An estimated 200 doses were missed at Golden Gate Fields, where a drive-thru clinic operates in the north parking lot.

The racing facility blames protestors who arrived at about noon to draw attention to widespread deaths among thoroughbreds during racing and training.

About 30 people held signs at the entrance, and four activists chained themselves together on the top of the backstretch, setting off purple smoke flares.

They intended to block several afternoon races, run without spectators. 
But the action had a wider effect.

"I think there was a lot of confusion from folks," said Captain Colin Arnold of the Berkeley Fire Department, supervising the vaccine effort.   

Arnold said when Albany Police and track management responded, "They didn't have the site secure and they weren't sure what was going on."

With about 300 yards separating the clinic from the locked-down protestors, "the recommendation from Albany was that we close down the site out of an abundance of caution," Arnold. said

The evacuation sent hundreds of people packing.

"People standing there, ready to get their vaccination and we had to put the vaccinations away, put them back in the cooler and send them on their way," he said.

The pavement remained cleared for three hours, as protestors lay on the adjacent racetrack, with an awning brought in to shield them from the sun.

Traffic to the clinic was backed up for miles.

Some of the people who had been sent away stayed close-by, hoping to double back. Others continued to arrive for their doses, unaware that the clinic wasn't operating.

"I don't know why anyone would interrupt this, it's so important," said Lenore Dolan of Berkeley, who managed to keep her afternoon appointment although it was more than an hour late.  

"I did not know why it was so backed-up, we just waited in line, and eventually it happened, and I got my shot," said Dolan.

On Twitter, Golden Gate Fields said, "the protestors have forced the closure of the clinic, and hundreds of people had their vaccinations canceled."

But protesters insist they warned Albany of their intentions and no one should have been surprised.

"Obviously all of us here today want people to be safe and want people to be healthy," said Samantha Eachus of Direct Action Everywhere.

Eachus called the clinic closure an extreme over-reaction, noting that it managed to reopen safely as chained protestors were still sprawled on the turf.

It wasn't until 7 p.m. when police finally removed the foursome and sent them off with trespassing citations.

"The track is trying to make our action look bad by trying to blame our activism because some people didn't get their vaccines but that is wholly untrue," said Eachus. "This ludicrous response illustrates a level of ineptitude that should be addressed and investigated immediately."

According to the California Horse Racing Board, three horses died in training, over a four-day period last month at Golden Gate Fields. That makes five deaths this year, and 27 last year at the track.

Critics say it's cruel to force young, undeveloped horses to race, and that their injuries are often masked by medication.

But as the industry and activists clash, Berkeley Public Health has a clinic in the middle.

"I'm sure if I was here getting vaccinated, I'd be very frustrated," said Arnold, who called two extra engine companies and an ambulance to the site when it reopened.

The addition of a dozen personnel allowed more vaccination stations to open and the clinic to try to catch-up.

"I don't know how many people returned for their vaccination at the end of the day but it was a pretty heavy lift," Arnold said.

Those who did not get their second doses will be contacted for rescheduling.

Arnold expressed gratitude to the public for their patience.

Even after waiting, most recipients were just happy to get their shot.

"They're very efficient and very nice, even under duress, they did a great job," said John Sanborn of Berkeley who drove away fully vaccinated and smiling.