COVID-19 vaccines are coming to Santa Clara County. Here’s how they’ll be distributed and tracked
Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody is pictured during a news conference in this file photo.

    With the FDA’s approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination on Dec. 11, thousands of health care workers may soon receive immunization shots in Santa Clara County within the next week.

    Health officials expect 17,550 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 39,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine to be available in the county over the next few weeks.

    However, only a fraction of health care workers will have access to the vaccine.

    Doses are so scarce that state health officials have broken down their first phase of vaccine distribution into multiple tiers. In the first tier are health care workers at acute care and skilled nursing facilities and hospitals within jails and prisons.

    “The first bit of vaccine coming to our county will not even be enough to get us through the first two bullets in tier one,” said Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. “That’s a very large group of individuals that fall into tier one.”

    COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said the county will receive about 6,000 of the 17,550 Pfizer doses by mid-December, which will all go to acute care and skilled nursing staff. Fenstersheib said the county has about 75,000 acute care hospital workers, and the first round will only be available for 10% to 12% of them.

    Urgent care workers and community health workers will be in the second tier of the first phase. Health officials expect the general public won’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines for several months.

    How will the county track who receives the vaccine and any adverse reactions to it?

    County health officials encourage private and public health care providers to collect data on people’s immunizations, vaccination dates and inventory to share with the state.

    Vaccine providers can transmit data to the California Immunization Registry – a database tracking immunizations of California residents – via electronic health records or software that tracks patients immunizations, according to the county’s vaccination plan.

    Hospitals may use software such as PrepMod – online software that tracks when people are vaccinated – to alert patients when they need to receive a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine 28 days after the first. Both vaccines require a second booster shot and patients will be notified via email and texts.

    The state’s immunization registry is confidential and can only be accessed by authorized medical staff and health officials.

    Reactions to the vaccine

    California requires every provider to report reactions from the vaccine to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS).

    VAERS is a database and early warning system run by the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to detect possible safety problems with U.S. licensed vaccines.

    While the FDA has approved the vaccines under emergency authorization, three patients in the United Kingdom reported severe allergic reactions to the vaccine. British health officials said any person with a history of anaphylaxis or severe allergies to vaccines, medicine or food should not be immunized. However, they noted those conditions are rare.

    The county will update its website to provide instructions on how health care providers should report any incidents to VAERS, though no guidance was listed as of Dec. 13.

    Patients can report reactions to the vaccine directly to VAERS as well.

    County leaders said they may come up with more requirements for private health care providers to prevent “hoarding” of vaccinations and to ensure they’re immunizing sufficient numbers of people within the county.

    It’s unclear how the county will ensure hospitals are distributing proper amounts of vaccinations.

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian last week said he lacks confidence in private health care providers after they failed to conduct enough COVID-19 tests.

    “The hope and expectation is that responsibility will be undertaken by folks in the health care arena, who are in the private (and) nonprofit sector outside the governmental sphere,” Simitian said. “But we had that hope and expectation with testing only to be disappointed, frankly.”

    County Executive Jeff Smith said the county could impose vaccination requirements on private companies or take legal action against them for not complying with state and county vaccine regulations.

    However, county leaders said collecting too much data could spark distrust among immigrant communities. A federal data sharing plan drew the ire of Smith, who said the plan could dissuade people from getting vaccinated if they are undocumented.

    “We’re very concerned about the fact that any information transfer may discourage people from participating in the vaccine program,” Smith said.

    Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

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