Common questions about Sonoma County’s coronavirus vaccines answered
Sonoma County’s newest vaccination option opened Tuesday: a clinic at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Sonoma, where up to 300 doses a day will be administered to a widening range of residents, starting with those 70 years old and up.
The new site brings the total capacity of the county-supported clinics to as many as 3,000 vaccinations per day. (That sum does not include the doses allotted to local hospitals or health clinics working independently.)
The growing network reflects a significant expansion of capacity in the three weeks since the county’s first public site, operated by OptumServe in Rohnert Park, began immunizing seniors on Jan. 27.
Still, the weekly supply of shots distributed to the county — just 8,025 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine this week for nine clinics — remains too small a stream for the larger pipeline established by the county, leading to limited appointments that are filling up within hours of their first availability.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Paul Gullixson, the county’s communications chief. “We’re pleased to get that many, as that’s the most that we’ve been allocated to date for any single week. But we have the capacity to do much more than that. At this point, it’s just an issue of distributing them equitably to make sure clinics have enough to meet their needs for second doses as well as their objectives for first doses.”
The strain has led to frustration and confusion among many of those in the general population now eligible to receive the vaccine, including seniors age 70 and up — according to the county’s guidelines — and uncertainty for the even wider population still in wait.
As local health officials navigate the supply shortages and work to prioritize immunizations for at-risk people, more questions about vaccine distribution pile up from Press Democrat readers. Here are some of the most pressing and timely.
Who is currently eligible to be vaccinated in Sonoma County?
California’s system of phases and tiers, which the state has modified at least once since the start of the rollout and promises to do again in March, began with health care workers such as hospital and clinic staff, paramedics and EMTs, in-home health aides, community health outreach workers, dental clinics, pharmacy staff, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Many of those people have been served; those who haven’t remain eligible.
The county has since begun to vaccinate seniors, teachers, child care providers, and food and agriculture workers. But Sonoma County remains misaligned with the state on one key criterion. Gov. Gavin Newsom opened up eligibility to everyone 65 and older on Jan. 13. The county, insisting it doesn’t have enough doses to serve that population, currently sets the bar at 70. The state has allowed private providers more discretion on how they set eligibility.
When will vaccinations open to everyone over 65 here?
This is the foremost question on residents’ minds, but the answer remains elusive. Just under 22,500 doses went into arms in Sonoma County last week, including those coming from hospitals. That figure presents a notable increase. Just two weeks earlier, the number was a little over 16,000. Two weeks before that, it was close to 8,000. But current supply can’t come close to the approximately 200,000 doses it would take to inoculate everyone in the county aged 65 and up. And the national vaccine supply chain remains unpredictable.
“I wish we could give you a specific date for 65 and older, but it depends on our overall supply level, and how quickly we can continue to vaccinate,” Sonoma County vaccine chief Dr. Urmila Shende said last week.
What’s the best way to get an appointment to be vaccinated?
Another valid question with a vexing answer. If you are 75 or older, you have a decent chance of scheduling a shot at the Rohnert Park clinic run by OptumServe, which continues to focus on that older demographic. If you are 70-74, there are multiple options available to you — but securing an appointment can be exceedingly difficult.
Tuesday morning, none of the many individual sign-up websites for Sonoma County Safeway and CVS pharmacies, Sonoma Valley Community Health or West County Health Centers were showing any available dates. (Late in the day, Sonoma County Health added slots for a clinic at Sonoma Valley High School on Feb. 21.) Sutter Health is vaccinating everyone 65 and older, though those slots can be hard to secure, too.
County officials say the best way to line up a dose is still through your primary physician, a waiting game that has become increasingly frustrating for those local seniors who have thus far been left out.