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Shortage of coronavirus vaccine slows Sonoma County immunization campaign

The county may soon have the capacity to manage 2,000 doses per day, but the vaccine supply from the state still lags.|

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Sonoma County is poised to significantly expand the number of people vaccinated every day against the novel coronavirus, even as county leaders and public health officials are growing increasingly frustrated with the slow trickle of vaccine provided by the state of California.

The county unveiled plans Thursday to open two more vaccination sites next week, adding to the five clinics it already coordinates, part of a program that could soon be administering 2,000 doses a day. That figure, which excludes vials going to the six hospitals in the region, would represent a dramatic expansion of the county’s vaccination campaign, which has averaged 985 doses a day over the last week.

Lynda Hopkins, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said the rollout of the county’s vaccination campaign is being limited by distribution from the state.

As of Wednesday, county hospitals and health contractors had administered a total of 23,787 doses of vaccine, a figure that accounts for 5,033 people who have completed their two-dose vaccination course and 13,721 who have received just one dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna formula. As Hopkins pointed out, that equates to less than 6% of the county’s adult population.

“In other words, we don’t have anywhere close to what we need,” she said Thursday during a public videoconference.

At the wider level, California currently ranks dead last among the 50 states in the percentage of available doses administered, at 36.8%. Many counties are complaining they don’t have the supply to fulfill Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directive to start vaccinating seniors 65 and older.

“Other states have taken a more centralized approach to appointment scheduling, to distribution, to data collection and information provision, which has greatly aided local jurisdictions like counties and local vaccination efforts,” Hopkins said. “Here, we do have a long way to go.”

The 23,787 number does not include doses channeled through a federal program that serves residential elder care facilities through CVS and Walgreens, so the total number immunized in Sonoma County is undetermined. But that program, too, has been plagued by inefficiency, with many adult care facilities desperately trying to figure out when their residents and staff will get the vital shots.

Supervisor David Rabbitt described the CVS/Walgreens program as “frustratingly slow.”

Still, there are several positive developments.

The county announced that it has completed Phase 1A, Tier 1 of the vaccine schedule, a category that includes acute care hospitals and emergency medical providers like paramedics and EMTs. The county is well into Tier 2 (in-home health aides, community health workers, primary care and urgent care clinics, the county jail clinic) and is beginning to vaccinate in Tier 3 (medical lab workers, dental clinics, pharmacy staff).

That will require the county to expand its ability to deliver doses, but Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase believes it is getting there. It currently has five vaccination clinics up and running:

  • A site for first responders and law enforcement at the Public Health Lab, with capacity for 200 doses per day.
  • A clinic for health care providers at Grace Pavilion, run by the Sonoma County Medical Association, 300 per day.
  • A Safeway clinic for in-home supportive services workers at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 300 per day.
  • A site run by Clinical Health Appraisals for public health field workers at the county administration building, 200 per day.
  • A clinic at Roseland Library dedicated to Latino community health promoters and managed by DEMA Consulting, 200 per day.

As soon as next week, the county hopes to open additional clinic sites at the Fitness Center on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus in Petaluma and at Huerta Gym in Windsor. Each would be able to vaccinate 300 people per day. County officials are also attempting to set up vaccination centers in Sonoma Valley and west county. And additional lanes at Grace Pavilion could ultimately serve 1,200 per day.

The county does not directly run these sites. It acts as property manager and coordinates traffic control, greeting, language interpretation and security.

And the county’s hospital partners are starting to ramp up capability, too. Kaiser Permanente, for example, is preparing to expand its vaccine operation to a second site beyond its main Santa Rosa campus, according to emergency medicine physician Dr. Josh Weil.

All of it is geared toward ramping up capacity for the anticipated move into Phase 1B, Tier 1, a group that includes residents 65 and older. That advancement, anticipated sometime in early February, will bring both a huge sense of relief for vulnerable seniors and a monumental challenge for those carrying out the plan.

The most recent census estimate put the number of Sonoma County residents 65 and up at 102,000. Even subtracting those who will be vaccinated separately though the CVS/Walgreens program, it is likely to take somewhere close to 200,000 doses to fully immunize that segment of the population here.

“If we were to look at the current supply that we have today, and the number of patients that we need to vaccinate over the age of 65,” St. Joseph Health chief medical officer Chad Krilich said, referencing Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals, “we have 4% of the vaccine supply that we would need.”

As always, local health officials and political representatives are unified in preaching forbearance in the face of this complex, important and sometimes infuriating process.

“As a senior over the age of 65, no, I haven’t received my vaccine either,” Supervisor Susan Gorin said. “And I encourage you to be patient.”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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