Bay Area health leaders urge prioritizing people 65+ for COVID-19 vaccine
Oliver Hsu, assistant director of pharmacy, holds a vial containing the COVID-19 vaccine being administered at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif. (San José Spotlight / Vicente Vera, Pool)

Amid statewide COVID-19 vaccine shortages, health officials in eight Bay Area counties are recommending that all health care systems prioritize shots for patients 65 and over.

Those aged 65 and over account for the majority of COVID-19 deaths — 81% of deaths in Santa Clara County.

The announcement comes as the Bay Area faces a slowdown in shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine from the state due to a new allocation system. With the current pace of supply, local health officials say it will be “several weeks” before elderly people can get their first shots.

“We need to be direct and honest with the public that, although we want to vaccinate everyone, right now we just don’t have enough vaccine to do so,” said Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. “Given limited supply of vaccine, we must prioritize vaccinating those at greatest risk of death or serious illness. We are anxious to vaccinate a much broader segment of the population, and are ready to do so as soon as vaccine supplies allow.”

Marin, Napa, Santa Cruz and Solano counties are currently prioritizing patients aged 75 and older. Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are prioritizing people aged 65 and older.

The state is currently in Phase 1A and Phase 1B tier 1 of its vaccination plan. Phase 1A consists of health care workers and long-term care residents, many of whom are now in line for their second doses. Phase 1B tier 1 includes individuals age 65 and over as well as those at risk of exposure in education and childcare, emergency services and food and agriculture.

But according to officials, the Bay Area has only received a small fraction of the vaccines needed to vaccinate residents aged 65 and older, much less the broader occupation-based groups included in phase 1B tier 1. Weekly dose allocations from the state of California have slowed compared to shipments in December and early January, officials said.

As of Tuesday, the state’s vaccination tracker showed that only around 3.7 million vaccine doses had been administered. Approximately 11.5 million people need to be vaccinated in the state’s two current vaccine tiers.

Santa Clara County health care providers have administered a total of 228,772 vaccine doses, or 71% of the total doses received as of Wednesday, according to data from the county’s vaccination dashboard.

California’s vaccine dashboard, which tracks the number of doses administered in each county as well as the doses shipped and delivered, is updated daily.

In response to the sluggish rollout and limited vaccine supply, state health officials on Jan. 26 announced that vaccine eligibility would change after phase 1B tier 1 and become solely based on age instead of risk factor. The goal, state officials said, is to accelerate vaccine distribution across all 58 counties and ensure the vaccine goes to disproportionately impacted communities.

However, Santa Clara County health officials and leaders have expressed concerns that the change may reduce vaccine supply and harm equitable access. Wide health disparities exist among communities of color — while only 25% of the county’s population is Latino, the group accounts for more than half of all the county’s COVID-19 cases.

Still, elderly people are dying at higher rates of COVID-19 all over the Bay Area.

Here’s a look at the proportion of COVID-19-related deaths of county residents 65+ as of Jan. 28:

  • Contra Costa: 82%
  • Marin: 92%
  • Napa: 79%
  • San Francisco: 83%
  • San Mateo: 84%
  • Santa Clara: 81%
  • Santa Cruz: 90%
  • Solano: 78%

As of Wednesday, Santa Clara County has reported 103,236 total COVID-19 cases and 1,473 deaths. For the latest information on vaccine eligibility and distribution, visit www.sccfreevax.org.

Contact Sheila Tran at [email protected]

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