COVID-19 vaccination appointments scarce as California expands eligibility to people 50 and older
A surge of Sonoma County residents 50 and older scrambled to book appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations Thursday under new state eligibility standards, but demand appeared to far outpace availability.
The expansion made about 60,000 unvaccinated Sonoma County residents from the ages of 50 to 64 eligible to receive a shot for the first time since the immunization campaign started in mid December. Many residents, however, struggled to find open appointments through their health care provider or other systems.
Local Safeway and CVS pharmacies had few to no open appointment slots listed on their websites Thursday. Sutter Health also had limited spots available throughout its system, and they were often booked within seconds.
Daniel Pomplun, a Petaluma resident, spent about an hour repeatedly refreshing his computer screen Thursday morning while scouring Sutter and other websites for appointments. He would tweak his search terms to bring up new results, and whenever a local spot popped up, either because of a cancellation or an addition of an appointment, he clicked on it, trying to snare it before the slot was filled.
It took about four attempts to book an appointment for himself for Friday. Another six attempts got him an appointment for his wife Cindy next Tuesday.
“The only thing I would say is, be persistent,” he said. “Keep working at it. Even if it’s full, you just have to keep trying.”
Ashley Boarman, spokeswoman for Sutter Health, said she did not have information Thursday about how many local appointments were available at the start of the day or whether new appointments are added to the scheduling system at regular intervals.
“Sutter’s ability to schedule appointments for patients remains dependent on supply, and we’re hopeful the state’s increased supply will positively impact Sutter’s allocation and enable us to fully utilize the vaccination capacity we’ve built,” the company said in a statement.
Over 300 people signed up within a single hour Thursday morning for vaccine appointments at a clinic operated by Providence St. Joseph, said Brandi Lazorek, chief operating officer for Providence Medical Group’s Northern California region. The organization is using the state’s MyTurn website to book appointments for its clinic at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. The surge of bookings was a significant increase, she said, after a quiet start to the week at the fairgrounds clinic.
Local health administrators earlier this week cautioned residents that appointments would be difficult to find immediately, though they declined to offer specifics on how long it might take to reach all of the newly eligible population.
“It really depends on the vaccine supply, over which we have absolutely no idea and no control at this point,” said Dr. Urmila Shende, the county’s vaccine manager. “So it’s very hard to answer that question.”
Sonoma County has for months struggled with low allocations of vaccine doses that fall well below local capacity to administer shots, prompting the Board of Supervisors to urge state officials to increase vaccine shipments earlier this week. But Ken Tasseff, the county’s vaccine site coordinator, received encouraging news Thursday morning that the state is bumping up the coming week’s vaccine allocation.
Rather than the 11,200 doses expected, 15,000 will arrive next week, Tasseff said. The extra doses will boost the county’s efforts to immunize homeless residents, homebound residents and those living in higher-poverty areas.
The county will also receive some of its first vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, which can be completed with a single dose, Tasseff said.
“We’re feeling good that this allocation that’s coming Monday is actually one of our higher allocations than we had received recently,” he said. “The county is going to continue to focus on those most vulnerable populations and the highest needs, those that are most underserved.”
The Sonoma County Medical Association’s vaccination clinic at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds is one such site where essential workers such as vineyard workers and Latinx families from underserved neighborhoods have been able to get shots. But more spots will be available for people aged 50 and up starting next week, said Wendy Young, executive director.
Each weekday, 500 appointments should be available, Young said, totaling 2,500 appointments for the week.
“We’re going to have great energy next week,” she said. “If they want it, they can get it.”
As a private clinic, the group is not yet scheduling appointments through MyTurn, Young said. Eligible people seeking vaccines should email firstname.lastname@example.org, where they will receive a link to schedule their appointment, she said.
“We’re like the county’s little secret stash over here,” Young joked, adding that that’s something her group is hoping to change so that people know all their available places to find vaccines.
All California residents can use Myturn.ca.gov to check for available appointments, including registering to be notified when an appointment is available. Residents can also call 833)-422-4255 to schedule appointments.
Vaccine Finder can also help patients check availability at local pharmacies.
Sutter Health patients can find appointment information at https://bit.ly/2PvKFLj or by calling 844-987-6115. Kaiser Permanente is reaching out to its members directly and Providence is steering its patients toward the state’s website, where all of its appointments will be handled by April 6, Lazorek said.
Lazorek also applauded the increase in local allocation of vaccines from the state, especially in light of another deadline for vaccine eligibility to increase, to all adults age 16 and over starting April 15.
“We are hoping this trend will continue and we will have adequate supply on hand for when we open up to 16 years and over later this month,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.