S. E. Williams |

“Vaccinations are without doubt one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine, and there is hope that they can constitute a solution to halt the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, the anti-vaccination movement is currently on the rise, spreading online misinformation about vaccine safety.”

–   Federico Germani and Nikola Biller-Andorno

When news broke recently that Riverside County had contracted with Traffik, a company owned by anti-vaccine mandate extremist Anthony Triminio, to promote culturally relevant messaging that resonates with communities of color to increase COVID-19 vaccine acceptance—many in the community were incensed. They questioned not only how it happened but what will be done to prevent it from happening again.

The operative word being “might”

Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington told one reporter that had he known the business owner’s position in July when the contract was approved, “[I]t might have entered into my decision making.”

Taking Washington at his word that it “might” have entered his decision making, rang hollow to me.  

When I asked the county’s Public Information Officer, Brooke Frederico, about why the county would enter such a contract with a company led by someone so obviously and openly against vaccine mandates to facilitate a strategy aimed at improving local vaccination rates, her response was not unlike comments made  by Washington. “The county was unaware the vendor launched a separate vaccine campaign,” she replied, referencing a new national effort launched by Triminio. 

The effort, an anti-vaccine-mandate campaign, was launched after the county contract with Triminio’s company was approved in July and before it expired on October 31.

Triminio’s anti mandate campaign, We are Still Heroes, not only opposes vaccine mandates, it also celebrates workers who refuse to take the vaccine. This is 180 degrees from the message Traffik was paid to promote to residents in Riverside County and the reality of the two campaigns overlapping not only makes no sense, it is outright ridiculous. It is easy to see why county officials claim no knowledge or that they followed the rules. 

Triminio’s new campaign not only opposes vaccine mandates, it also celebrates workers who refuse them.

However, it is important for readers to know that when the county contracted with Triminio’s company in July, although he had not yet launched the We are Still Heroes campaign, there was an abundance of information on social- and traditional media (including print, digital, and broadcast), regarding his candidacy for governor in the Newsom Recall election, which clearly highlighted his attitude toward COVID-19 mandates and the vaccine.

In one Instagram post dated July 11, around the time the Riverside contract was finalized, Triminio proclaimed, “Merely revising the mask mandate in our schools isn’t going far enough. [If elected] I will also move swiftly to reject the idea of mandatory compliance of experimental vaccines and cease the government-led promotion of their use on our children.”

Social media post of CA gubernatorial candidate and owner of Traffik, Anthony Triminio during the 2020 Newsom Recall Recall campaign. (Instagram.com)

Was it appropriate, was it prudent, was it rational or reasonable to entrust the potentially lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine promotion campaign aimed at communities disproportionately impacted by the virus, to a company whose owner refers to the vaccine as—experimental?

In July, as people of color continued to experience disproportionate  impacts of the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic, the nation, state, and local municipalities were scrambling in their attempts to control the virus’ spread by dedicating money and resources to reduce vaccine hesitancy and improve vaccine participation by targeting outreach efforts and improving vaccine access among all communities, especially communities of color.

At the same time, former Republican gubernatorial candidate, and Orange County business owner Triminio, railed relentlessly on social media, during guest radio spots and when speaking during other public forums, against nearly every action taken by Governor Newsom to curb the spread of the virus whether in relation to wearing masks or regarding vaccine requirements.

Triminio’s social media posts

“My [B]lack-American friend sitting next to me literally stopped eating while he processed what was happening. We were actually being discriminated against,” posted Traffik owner Anthony Triminio to Instagram after choosing to eat at a restaurant’s outside patio rather than comply with requirements to wear a mask and show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. (Instagram.com via pressdemocrat.com)

Triminio’s social media activism did not end with Newsom’s victory. In September, he posted another revealing commentary after dining in an exclusive restaurant in Napa Valley. His comments were critical of the restaurant’s requirement for proof of vaccination for indoor dining even though the restaurant also offered a patio option for the unvaccinated to sit and dine outdoors.

Triminio’s original Sept. 9 Instagram post as published in The Press Democrat later that month, could simultaneously be perceived as racist and willfully ignorant.

“If you are for equality, if you are against discrimination, if you are for freedom, you cannot support this ideology — no matter what political party you align with.” he wrote. “This is about human rights. This is about liberty. This is about choices over mandates.”

Is this what segregation looks like?

He goes further in his post, noting, “[A]s we battled the heat outside while staring at a few parties in the restaurant enjoying the climate-controlled AC [air conditioned] environment, it hit us like a ton of bricks — this is what segregation looks like.” 

But Triminio did not stop there. “My [B]lack-American friend sitting next to me literally stopped eating while he processed what was happening,” Triminio proclaimed before adding, “We were actually being discriminated against. Not because of the color of our skin (Triminio is Cuban), but because of our vaccination status and/or unwillingness to share our vaccination status. The restaurant was separated into two groups – those allowed to eat inside and those forced to eat outside.”

According to the post this was Triminio and his Black-American friend’s first encounter with what he identified as, “the new form of discrimination sweeping the nation.”

Triminio’s Instagram post was subsequently deleted and now states instead, “This post was intended to provoke thought. That no form of discrimination should be tolerated lest they all be justified. . . ”

At this point it is important to reiterate that Riverside County’s contract with Triminio’s company Traffik totaled more than $250,000 to encourage people of color to get vaccinated.

Trimino’s We Are Still Heroes campaign—described by NBC as the largest medical campaign in history—carries forward his sham discrimination theme. According to the campaign’s website, “We Are Still Heroes was established to be a voice for families negatively impacted by workplace discrimination.”  

Just the thought of Triminio comparing vaccine mandates to racial discrimination is repulsive to me and when considering this in light of the hundreds of thousands of Black, Latino, Indigenous and other people of color who have suffered and died from this scourge largely due to the burdens of systemic and institutional racism, is repugnant to me. And having to accept the reality that Riverside County would enrich this man shows once again how laws, rules, regulations, procedures and processes fail to consider the repercussions of their choices.

As Frederico advised me, “The county awarded the contract with the vendor based on a competitive bid process. The vendor was selected based on their ability to perform the deliverables needed for the campaign, as well as meeting other procurement requirements. The work performed during this contract has been satisfactory.”

To that I say even if all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, so to speak, it still does not make this scenario right or should I say righteous.

When asked specifically about what steps the county will take to prevent people like Triminio (and his company, Traffik) who expressly oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates from securing any future contracts in relation to this important issue, the response was boilerplate.

“The county follows a set procurement process with consistent evaluation questions and scoring criteria that is based on the business’s ability to meet project deliverables,” she stated before concluding, “The county is always taking feedback on the procurement process.”

I believe the citizens of this county who find fault with awarding quarter million-dollar contracts to Trimino and Traffik or similar companies who are anti-mandate, vaccine critics, to promote vaccines in minority communities should take Frederico at her word and demand the Board of Supervisors prevent this from happening in the future and stop hiding behind process and procedure.

We cannot undo what is already done but citizens can demand a more judicious process to prevent it from happening again. We know there are exceptions to every rule. We see this every time a no bid contract is approved. 

Please speak out on this Traffik/Triminio issue by calling the Clerk of the Board at 951.955.1069 or send an email to cob@rivco.org.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and...