Vaccinations resume at Golden Gate Fields after temporary shutdown due to horse racing protest

Appointments at the Golden Gate Fields vaccination site were stalled for about three hours due to the presence of animal rights protesters.

Police vehicles at the Golden Gate Fields vaccination site shutting down the entrance due to an animal rights protest. Photo: Maksim Ioffe

Update: 3:48 p.m. Up to 200 people who had COVID-19 vaccine appointments Thursday may not receive their doses due to the delay caused by the protest, city spokesperson Matthai Chakko said.

Additional Albany and Berkeley firefighters and city staff are responding to the site to vaccinate as many people as possible, but they may not be able to vaccinate everyone who was scheduled today. He said the site will likely not extend its hours for the day.

“Because of their actions, hundreds of people didn’t get a chance to get vaccinated today,” Chakko said, describing the “historic scale” of the mass vaccination effort. “There’s a cost to all this.”

Protesters have disputed that the site needed to be shut down due to the action, but Chakko said public safety officials are the authorities in assessing potential impacts to the mass vaccination site. The recommendation to close the site came from Albany Police and Chakko said the city fully aligned with their guidance.

Berkeley resident Maksim Ioffe, who was initially turned away from the site upon returning after the closure, told Berkeleyside that his 71-year-old mother was able to get her second dose of the vaccine around 3:30 p.m.

Update, 3:08 p.m. City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said appointments have resumed at the vaccination site.

Berkeley resident Maksim Ioffe returned to the site for his mother’s second vaccine dose after being told her appointment was canceled due to the protest at noon.

Ioffe was turned away by Albany police minutes before, he said, but the line of cars on Buchanan Street is moving toward the site entrance as of 3:09 p.m.

Original story: Berkeley officials have temporarily canceled all COVID-19 vaccination appointments at Golden Gate Fields mass vaccination site Thursday afternoon due to a protest against horse racing at the location, which is located on the Albany-Berkeley border.

Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko said about 100 appointments have been canceled so far, and the city has not yet decided when the site will be reopened today. There were about 30 protesters at the site and some of them were chained to a fence near the vaccination site, Chakko said.

The Albany Police Department is heading up the response and Berkeley police are assisting.

DxE drone shot of four activists on track of Golden Gate Fields.
DxE drone shot of four activists on track of Golden Gate Fields. The woman in the upper left is Cassie King, a DxE organizer.

The protesters are part of Direct Action Everywhere, DxE, which has its headquarters in Berkeley. Cassie King, one of the group’s organizers, said four activists had planted themselves in the middle of Golden Gate Fields’ racetrack and managed to postpone a 12:45 p.m. race. DxE showed drone footage of the four protesters as well as a live stream of other protesters outside the track’s Gilman Street entrance.

“We think this industry is inherently violent,” King said on the livestream. “We want to see it end.”

DXE has been protesting two recent horse deaths at the track, among five this year. “It’s not entertainment. It’s violence,” the protesters outside shouted.

Golden Gate Fields had paused races in the aftermath of a large COVID-19 outbreak among its workers but resumed the races last month. According to its online calendar, seven races were scheduled Thursday beginning 12:45-4 p.m.

Berkeley resident Maksim Ioffe arrived at the site exactly at noon with his 71-year-old mom to get her scheduled second dose of the vaccine.  Ioffe said they were in one of the lanes at the site leading up to the vaccination tent when a worker informed them that the site was closed due to a protest, and all appointments were canceled.

Ioffe is currently waiting under the I-80 underpass along with dozens of others who had their appointments canceled. Many of them are hoping to return to the site and get their scheduled doses, but Chakko said the city hasn’t decided whether earlier appointments today will be rescheduled for later in the day or later in the week.

In a post on social media, Golden Gate Fields said management “respectfully suggest to the activists that there is a better way to have this conversation and air their concerns.”

Direct Action Everywhere released a statement Thursday afternoon in response to the vaccination site being closed.

“Our action is unrelated to the vaccination center located nearby, and DxE alerted Albany PD to ensure there was no confusion. DxE supports the vaccination site and has called out Golden Gate Fields for being the largest Covid spreader in the East Bay Area, with over 300 of the 540 workers at Golden Gate Fields testing positive for COVID-19,” the group told Berkeleyside.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available. 

Note: After publication, Direct Action Everywhere informed Berkeleyside that their protesters were not chained to a fence near the vaccination site. Berkeleyside has made repeated attempts to contact Albany police (who are leading the investigation) to verify this information but has not heard back.

Supriya Yelimeli is Berkeleyside's homelessness and housing reporter. Email: supriya@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: SupriyaYelimeli. Phone: 510-585-8315.