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Shortages, postponements mar first day of wider vaccine eligibility

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

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

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The first day of coronavirus vaccination eligibility for all Californians 16 and older appeared as grim as predicted for those attempting to make appointments in Sonoma County on Thursday, as the massive influx of newly qualified people — an estimated 123,000 in this county alone — overwhelmed websites used for scheduling still-limited shots.

At the most inopportune time, the county received half of what it expected of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses. Also, dwindling Pfizer doses this week forced a Santa Rosa clinic that gets its supply from state and federal sources to postpone most Thursday appointments.

Overall, based on a tight vaccine supply in the county that’s expected to get worse before expanding, it’s likely to remain challenging for days or even weeks to get an appointment for a first shot.

“It’s true that there’s not enough supply to vaccinate everyone who wants a shot,” said Dr. Urmila Shende, Sonoma County’s vaccine chief. “In fact, after promising signs at the beginning of the month that our vaccine supply would be increasing, it’s actually looking pretty tight, pretty flat right now.”

And the pipeline is unlikely to surge anytime soon. The state Department of Public Health said it received 2 million doses from the federal government this week, and is expecting to get 1.9 million next week. For the week of April 25, the projected allocation again will be at 1.9 million doses.

The vaccine shipments coming to providers through the Sonoma County’s health department reflect that stagnant flow. The county got 6,390 doses from the state this week, its smallest delivery in weeks. Next week, it is expecting to receive 13,380 doses, more in line with recent allotments.

“Over the next four to six weeks, we’re hoping that there’s going to be a significant increase in vaccine supply,” Shende said. “But as with everything with this vaccine process, there’s never a dull moment, there’s always something else. And so nothing is guaranteed. We just have to be patient.”

Appointments for shots were sparse Thursday on MyTurn.com, the state-sanctioned online portal that is gradually being phased in for all county vaccination clinics.

At about 11 a.m., a random sampling of 10 Sonoma County ZIP codes revealed only two available appointments on MyTurn; those appointments were both in Napa on Saturday, and showed up only when searching for the Larkfield-Wikiup area — more than 40 miles from the vaccination site. By mid-afternoon, the sampling brought to light no open appointments for county residents.

Likewise, no available time slots for shots came up during searches on the separate sites of pharmacy chains CVS, Safeway and Walgreens.

Meanwhile, Sonoma County Medical Association postponed Thursday appointments for 16- and 17-year-olds expecting to receive the Pfizer vaccine at its clinic at Grace Pavilion, on the property of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The medical association, which is partnering with Santa Rosa Community Health to administer inoculations, gets its supply from the state and the U.S. health departments.

“We just got less Pfizer than expected,” said Wendy Young, executive director of the medical association. “We knew Pfizer would be a challenge this week.”

Santa Rosa Community Health eventually secured about 30 doses of Pfizer for the fairgrounds site, Young said. That wasn’t enough to cover the roughly 150 Pfizer appointments booked for Thursday, but it was enough to accommodate teens who hadn’t read the association’s email before showing up to the site. Other appointments were rebooked for late next week.

The county medical association had expected to get nothing but Pfizer vaccine doses this week, but late last week was told by its suppliers that would be impossible. Young negotiated to get a small amount of Pfizer for 16- and 17-year-olds, whom federal regulators have not approved for the Moderna vaccine. She found out Wednesday night it wouldn’t be coming.

Despite the hiccups, Young is happy the state and county have thrown open eligibility for COVID-19 to everyone 16 and older.

“We’ve always appreciated that we were trying to build the (vaccination) equity,” she said, referring to reserving doses for at-risk populations. “But it caused its own headaches because people were jumping the line. Now people don’t have to jump the line to get vaccine. And we don’t have to cancel appointments because they went to the wrong people.”

Everyone is going without the Johnson & Johnson vaccine right now because the federal government ordered a pause following news of a small number of severe blood clots among recipients, all of them women 18 to 48. State officials then directed vaccinators to suspend its use.

And now providers are facing a reduction in Pfizer vaccine doses. The county generally has been getting seven or eight “pizza trays” of Pfizer each week for its clinic partners, said site coordinator Ken Tasseff. Each tray holds 1,170 doses. This week, he said, the county got four trays.

West County Health Centers was forced to pivot from Pfizer to Moderna for many first-dose appointments this week. Alliance Medical Center does not anticipate canceling any appointments, but medical director Susannah Labbe said the center “must see an increase in supply soon” to effectively protect its community.

Kaiser Permanente, which has vaccinated more people in Sonoma County than any other health provider, also acknowledged the effects of the vaccine shortages.

“There will be fewer vaccination appointments available than planned, for at least the next few weeks, just as millions more people start signing up for a vaccination,” Kaiser said in a statement.

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

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

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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