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Sonoma County’s vaccination expansion collides with severe vaccine shortage

Newly eligible seniors age 65-69 and food workers are eager for shots, but vaccine doses remain hard to come by, forcing clinic cancellations.|

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.

The expanding promise of coronavirus vaccinations in Sonoma County collided Monday with the realities of vaccine scarcity and extreme weather elsewhere upending expected deliveries of doses.

The supply problems were so severe that one of county’s largest health care providers, Sutter Health, decided to pause scheduling all appointments for first doses, and planned to reschedule second-dose appointments for some patients.

Friday’s announcement that the county would immediately open immunizations to residents age 65 and older, as well as food production, restaurant and grocery store employees — the largest single expansion of vaccine eligibility here, with an estimated 63,000 more people eligible — seemed like a watershed moment.

For Kevin Cronin and his staff at Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar in Santa Rosa, the wait to get inoculated against COVID-19 continues.

“Everyone who works for me now, they want to get vaccinated,” Cronin said Monday. “But it’s very difficult knowing how to maneuver this. Like, I don’t know personally. They say call your primary care provider. So you call them and they say, ‘We don’t know.”’

Indeed, appointments for shots remain acutely hard to secure. And the county’s widening eligibility comes at a particularly fraught time in the vaccination effort that began in December.

County temporarily closes several vaccination clinics

The county Monday closed several vaccination clinics for at least a day and medical providers rationed doses because of disrupted national distribution of vaccine shipments caused by last week’s frigid weather and power failures in other parts of the country, notably Texas.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Dr. Urmila Shende, Sonoma County’s COVID-19 vaccine director. “Especially since we have developed all these partnerships with different clinics, and we’re ready to increase capacity. But what can you do with Mother Nature?”

The county had an affiliated clinic at Sonoma Valley High School closed Sunday, and two more at Sonoma Veterans Memorial Hall (both of those were through Sonoma Valley Health Partners) and Rancho Cotate High School (through the Sonoma County Office of Education) shut on Monday as its partners waited for a week-late shipment of 5,100 doses of Moderna vaccine.

Those doses again failed to arrive Monday, sending county officials scrambling to scrap an additional clinic set for Tuesday at Grace Pavilion at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, one run by Sonoma County Medical Association. Another Tuesday clinic, at the Santa Rosa Junior College campus in Petaluma will run as planned, but will administer only the 84 doses that Petaluma Health Center already had on hand; it will cancel another 252 appointments.

Sonoma Valley Health Partners had planned to host another clinic at the veterans hall Tuesday, but decided not to schedule appointments in light of the vaccine shortage.

County health officials said they did receive kits containing syringes, bottles and other vaccination paraphernalia Monday. Shende took that as a good sign, because those shipments typically precede the additional vaccine doses by 24 hours.

Unlike Sutter Health, Providence St. Joseph, operator of Santa Rosa Memorial, Petaluma Valley and Healdsburg hospitals, has enough doses on hand to fulfill its appointment calendar for the week, its Northern California pharmacy director Saad Sultan said. Kaiser Permanente also said there are no delays in vaccination appointments.

West County Health Centers is taking an approach similar to Sutter’s. Chief Executive Jason Cunningham said the nonprofit is short three boxes of vaccine doses this week. They have been administering roughly 250 first doses a day at their clinics at Analy High School and Guerneville School, and were set to add 250 second doses to that this week.

“Instead, we are only vaccinating the 250 second doses and holding on to new doses until we get assurance of sufficient supply,” Cunningham said.

Mendocino County health officials said Monday that they also were opening vaccination eligibility to residents age 65 and older.

Strain on appointment portals

The greater demand for shots is putting further strain on the overwhelmed collection of inoculation appointment portals available to Sonoma County residents. On Monday, none of the sites linked on SoCoEmergency.org showed any vacant slots, except for the OptumServe clinic in Rohnert Park. The first available appointment there was March 18.

Despite the pitfalls Monday, many welcomed the county’s decision Friday to expand the vaccination eligibility to residents age 65 to 69. It finally aligned the county with statewide age criteria, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Jan. 13 that everyone in the state age 65 and up was immediately eligible for coronavirus immunization. But Sonoma County, already last month facing a shortage of vaccine doses, initially set the bar locally at 75. Two weeks ago, the county expanded eligibility to people 70 and older.

Many employers welcome expanded eligibility

Cronin, the Rosso Pizzeria owner, was well aware of the study published by UC San Francisco medical researchers in January concluding that among the 25 jobs statewide with at least 100 pandemic deaths, the most dangerous was line cook. Bakers and head chefs ranked No. 4 and No. 11, respectively, reflecting the high risk associated with the close quarters and hectic activity of most restaurant kitchens.

Dean Molsberry, owner of Molsberry’s Market in the Larkfield-Wikiup neighborhood, has 72 employees mostly wanting to be inoculated realizing the virus-related risk they face daily.

“If you’re a checker, you’re dealing with customers all day long, every customer who goes through the register,” Molsberry said. “You’re dealing with cash, because people still want to pay with cash. People are now bringing bags in. They will shop into their bags, so they’re touching everything you’re touching.”

Molsberry said the owners of Cal-Mart, in Calistoga, arranged to have a mobile vaccination team come to the market to administer doses. But that’s Napa County. Molsberry hasn’t been able to gather information on whether that might work in Sonoma County.

“Even if we had to send rows of people over (to Napa County), I’d have no problem doing that,” he said.

After vaccine supply catches up with demands, for seniors and food workers alike, knowing how to use a computer to sign up will remain one of the great barriers to getting inoculated against a scourge that has now killed over 500,000 Americans.

“I’m not a super computer-savvy guy,” Cronin said. “I’m a business owner, I know how to get around, but I’m not like some of these younger people. But the guys in my kitchen, they just don’t know how to do it.”

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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