Sonoma County begins planning for COVID-19 booster shots

President Biden said the additional vaccinations will be available to everyone beginning Sept. 20. Health officials say they are needed because many people’s pandemic immunity is waning.|

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

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In response to President Joe Biden announcing Wednesday he expected coronavirus booster shots to be available nationwide starting Sept. 20, Sonoma County health care providers and public health officials say they’ve begun planning for local residents to get the additional inoculations.

Rather than mass local vaccination sites, though, the anticipation is community health clinics, large medical providers and national pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens will take the lead in administering the booster shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve the boosters before states can start giving the third vaccine doses. However, the FDA has granted emergency authorization of third inoculations for people with compromised immune systems.

The reasons for extra shots are that many Americans find themselves in a position of waning immunity from COVID-19, after months ago getting their initial inoculations and the continued threat of the powerful delta variant. The delta strain of the virus now is the cause of nearly 99% of all new infections, according to the CDC.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said the vaccination infrastructure remains in place locally to avoid earlier missteps and the chaos that occurred as people rushed for COVID-19 shots when they first became available in the winter and spring.

“We've learned a lot about how to administer vaccines quickly into large groups of people and I think that’s going to help us” with another round of inoculations, Mase said.

It’s not clear yet how people will be prioritized for getting the initial boosters, but area infectious disease experts say it likely will be the same groups of people who got the first vaccine doses in December 2020 and in the beginning of this year. Health care workers, first responders and vulnerable seniors in nursing homes were among those that got top priority then, followed by people 75 and older before moving down through younger age groups.

As U.S. leaders moved Wednesday to tell people booster shots were inevitable to combat the resurging pandemic, county public health officials reported four more virus-related deaths, all individuals with underlying health problems. That raises the local pandemic death toll since March 2020 to 344. Now nine people here have died so far in August from the infectious disease, after 16 perished in July. That’s after four local deaths in June and a single virus-related death in May.

Two of the four latest fatalities were people vaccinated against the virus, including a homeless woman between 50 and 64 who died Aug. 8, and a man over 65 who died Aug. 9.

Also, two unvaccinated men lost their lives. One between 18 and 49 died Aug. 11 and the other man over 65 died Aug. 13.

Early planning to coordinate booster shot distribution in the county comes as the area’s public health officials and medical providers continue pressing reluctant and resistant local residents to get vaccinated in the first place. Among county residents 12 and older, 72% are fully inoculated against the virus.

Officials locally and around the country have said the summer wave of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths is being driven largely by the unvaccinated, though a small number of “breakthrough” infections are occurring among those fully inoculated.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jason Cunningham, CEO of West County Health Centers, said local health clinics are likely to focus on giving their patients the booster shots, while referring others to pharmacies which have built up their vaccination networks over the past several months.

Early this year, the largest pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens were initially inoculating residents and staff of senior care homes, before opening vaccinations to the general public.

CVS Health said Wednesday the company will begin offering COVID-19 booster shots as soon as the federal government gives the green light.

“As we await further guidance and approval from regulatory agencies, we’re fully prepared to play a leading role in providing booster shots this fall,” CVS spokesperson Monica Prinzing said in a statement.

CVS has thus far administered more than 30 million COVID-19 vaccines nationwide and immediately began offering third doses to immunocompromised people when the FDA recently granted emergency authorization, Prinzing said.

Local CVS locations have administered 59, 289 vaccine doses as of a week ago, according to the county’s latest vaccination data, making it the third-biggest vaccine distributor, behind Kaiser Permanente and Sonoma County community clinics.

Officials of Kaiser Permanente, which has given 156,938 inoculations locally to date, said Wednesday it is also awaiting “formal guidance” from federal and state health officials on a plan and process for administering booster shots.

At Petaluma Health Center, staff members have been for several months working on “contingency plans” for COVID-19 booster inoculations, as well administering the flu shot and first and second coronavirus vaccinations to hesitant or reluctant individuals, said Pedro Toledo, the center’s chief administrative officer.

“Our plan is to continue to deliver these services at our clinic sites where we have the capacity to vaccinate 500 persons per day, and if needed to open community vaccination sites if the CDC opens up COVID-19 (vaccination) eligibility to children,” Toledo said.

Wendy Young, executive director of the Sonoma County Medical Association, said her organization ended its vaccination clinic at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Aug. 8 because of a drop in demand for shots.

She said the association stands ready to give vaccination jabs in arms again when boosters become available, but it will have to partner with a medical provider who can obtain the vaccines.

"We’ve done it, we could easily set up in a day, we just need a partner,“ Young said. ”If you get the vaccine from the state, we can partner with you.“

Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley infectious disease expert, said the federal government’s planned move to extend boosters to the larger population is largely driven by data in the United States that shows vaccine protection waning after about eight months. He said a recent study in Israel also showed that immunity wanes over time after being fully vaccinated.

The Israeli data, he said, shows that “the longer you are away from your immunization, the more likely you're going to have a breakthrough infection.”

Local health officials said the booster vaccination effort should not have the same demand as the ongoing COVID-19 inoculation campaign.

Virus breakthrough cases are rare and hospitalizations and serious illness for those fully inoculated is even more uncommon, said Mase, the county health officer.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @pressreno.

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

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

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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