Calaveras County Public Health and Dignity Health Mark Twain Medical Center updated the board of supervisors Tuesday morning regarding their ongoing joint efforts to vaccinate an estimated 30,000 residents against COVID-19, a process which will require approximately 60,000 total doses.
Since opening a call center on Jan. 15 to schedule vaccinations for residents age 65 and older, the Mark Twain Medical Center vaccine clinic has been barraged with roughly 15,000 calls, effectively overwhelming staff members’ ability to return each call, hospital President and CEO Doug Archer said on Tuesday.
Although the clinic vaccinated 860 individuals last week, averaging 300 doses daily, approximately 5,000 people on the clinic’s waiting list have been left disappointed and confused, with many not aware that they are on the waiting list at all, Archer said.
False rumors that the clinic’s call system malfunctioned have only intensified public frustration, he said.
To help ease the burden on hospital staff, the clinic will be contracting a vendor to field calls and notify those who left a voicemail that they are on the waiting list, a process which should be up and running by the end of the week.
But Archer reminded the public that those on the waiting list will need to be patient, as inventory will only guarantee 400 additional doses administered at the clinic this week.
“There isn’t clarity,” Archer said regarding the vaccine supply chain. “We expect clarity, we want clarity, but we also have to be willing to admit or digest the fact that there just isn’t clarity right now at all levels of the nation, in not only how we move forward but what resources we have to do so.”
Meanwhile, the Public Health Division of the Calaveras County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has vaccinated roughly 1,100 additional individuals in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccine rollout schedule within the last week. About 250 of those vaccinations were a second dose, which is required for both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
Despite limited supply, county and hospital officials have committed to providing second doses and are prioritizing inventory accordingly, administrators reported.
The county has also begun vaccinating childcare workers and teachers, included in Phase 1B, Tier 1, in partnership with local schools, working its way through the state rollout schedule as supply allows.
Interim HHSA Director Sam Leach said that an automated online scheduling service will be introduced when the vaccine is more broadly available. Currently, the county is directly contacting groups of individuals who are eligible to be vaccinated.
Leach compared the current vaccine situation to attempting to fill a football stadium with people in an orderly fashion, following ever-changing directives from the state, while vaccinating as many people as possible without the promise of weekly shipments.
“I’m feeling a little bit of the pressure, (but) I know what I signed up for,” said Leach, who temporarily vacated his job as county probation chief to fill the HHSA position in December. “We need to make sure we’re not just clawing at each other, pointing fingers all the time. … We’re in it together.”
Both Leach and Archer painted a grim picture of the length of time it might take to vaccinate the population at the current rate of shipments.
Last week, the county received 700 doses and is promised 100 more this week, though the shipment could contain more doses, Leach said. Mark Twain Medical Center is similarly promised 100 additional doses this week through the Dignity Health supply chain, though it is not guaranteed, according to Archer.
“It’s going to take a while to get to 60,000 on that trajectory,” said Archer, who cited projections at the national level that the vaccination process may not be complete until early next year.
Leach and Archer both stated that they understood the fear and frustration of the public, but that patience is paramount during this “monumental time.”
“(Regarding) frustrations from the community, I’m prepared to take that,” Archer said. “I’m more than willing to be the target here, and that’s OK. The good work right now is getting people scheduled to have vaccines.”
Leach additionally warned that Calaveras County is “still in a surge” and at twice the positivity rate needed to enter a lower tier in the state’s COVID-19 monitoring system. He advised residents to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands as “the best way” to help the county bring down case numbers.