Updated 7:15 p.m., 1/14/21: Dignity Health Mark Twain Medical Center has partnered with Calaveras County Public Health to vaccinate people living in Calaveras County who are 65 years of age and older.
Persons 65 years of age and older interested in getting the vaccine should call (209) 754-2564. A full name, date of birth, and phone number must be provided. COVID-19 vaccines, including their administration, are free.
On Tuesday, Calaveras County’s health department announced that COVID-19 vaccinations for residents over the age of 75 would begin next week, creating a buzz of excitement throughout the community. But an extremely low supply of vaccines and the ever-changing directives from the state have stalled that effort.
“While we appreciate the state’s shared interest in vaccinating our most vulnerable populations, the unfortunate reality is that the state has not sent us sufficient supply to vaccinate our community members,” the Public Health Division of the Calaveras County Health and Human Service Agency (HHSA) stated Wednesday in a press release. “We hope that changes soon and promise to continue communicating with our community when we are able to begin scheduling vaccination clinics.”
As of Wednesday, the county was in possession of several hundred doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which requires two doses a few weeks apart in order to be effective. Within the next week, only 100 additional doses are expected to arrive.
To complicate matters further, the state on Wednesday expanded the first tier of the second phase of vaccinations to include residents over the age of 65, effectively adding 10,000 doses to the county’s projected quota, Public Health reported.
According to Interim HHSA Director Sam Leach, directives from the state regarding COVID-19 vaccinations can change by the hour, creating confusion and frustration among local officials and the communities they serve.
“Sometimes, the changes by the state are multiple times in a day. But we are working with the state to clarify those issues so we can get the vaccines administered in an equitable fashion,” Leach said. “By the time this (article) is printed, it might change. … It creates a lot of chaos for us in structuring who goes first.”
Leach took temporary leave from his duties as county Probation Chief to fill the HHSA position in late December after the role was left vacant by former director Kristin Stranger. On Wednesday, he said the community is about to face its most difficult months of the pandemic.
Like much of the state, Calaveras County is in the depths of an unprecedented surge of infections, Leach said, a crisis that will be reflected by updated case numbers in the coming days.
Since the vaccination of 580 local health care workers, first responders and assisted living residents beginning Dec. 17, Leach said he has noticed a shift in public opinion and demand for the vaccine.
“I know there is going to be a fraction of our community who doesn’t want to get the vaccine, and that’s OK,” he said. “It’s an individual choice. But I think people are becoming less fearful of it and more interested in getting past Covid.”
Yet, he said, “We don’t have the supply, and I think that’s important.”
Leach said he doesn’t believe that rural counties are being shortchanged in California’s vaccine rollout. Rather, it is a much larger issue.
California is currently ranked at 43rd out of 50 states in COVID-19 vaccines administered per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a recent interview with NBC News, Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was a matter of logistics.
Approximately 2.4 million vaccines had been delivered throughout California as of Jan. 11, with less than 800,000 administered. According to Newsom, the state has set a goal of administering one million more by the end of the weekend.
Loosening tiers for vaccination eligibility, broadening the pool of professionals who can administer the vaccine and opening mass vaccination sites have been efforts to expedite the process, the governor said.
But such expansions can be counterproductive without sufficient availability.
A recent article from the Associated Press noted that Santa Clara County health officials were similarly stalled by the broadening of vaccine eligibility to the 65-and-older population, having only enough doses to vaccinate those 75 and older.
“It’s almost like a beauty contest. And this should not be a beauty contest,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said in the article. “This is about life and death.”
In the meantime, Calaveras County health officials are doing all they can to prepare to mobilize on a day’s notice.
“We’re trying to manage the flow of priority so, if we suddenly get a huge increase in vaccine supply, we are ready to do that,” Leach said.
While vaccinations are currently a major focus, other efforts are being made to increase testing availability and improve communication with the community.
The Public Health webpage is being updated this week to feature a COVID-19 dashboard. In the past, discrepancies have occurred between data reported at the state and county levels due to a lengthy process of verifying local cases at the county level. In the coming days, the backlog will be remedied, and the dashboard will incorporate state data to hopefully provide more clarity, Leach said.
Public Health will also continue with its expanded testing services introduced last month, which provide mobile testing sites throughout the county at various times, in addition to the regional OptumServe test site.
A Public Health call center to address COVID-19-related questions is also expected to open this week.