Newly-elected San Jose legislators pressed on COVID-19 vaccine rollout
The panel of guests at a virtual forum on COVID-19 vaccinations hosted by Assemblyman Alex Lee and County Supervisor Otto Lee.

California and Santa Clara County’s vaccine rollout — full of mixed messages and poor communication — have been widely criticized over the past few weeks. Conflicting numbers have led to confusion and a massive backlog for vaccine distribution, and have left residents looking for answers.

Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose) and Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee hoped to provide those answers in a joint town hall Thursday with Alameda County Health Officer Nicholas Moss, Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith and doctors from Kaiser Permanente and Washington Hospital.

“During this whole pandemic, it’s been quite confusing for a lot of our constituents given that the Newsom administration changes its guidance and changes its directives quite frequently and without a lot of notice,” Alex Lee said.

Newsom has come under fire for his abrupt decision to lift stay-at-home orders as counties saw record COVID-19 cases and deaths. He now faces a growing recall effort.

Residents submitted questions about how to get vaccines and what to do after you get a shot.

“For the time being, really all the rules are staying the same, even for people who are getting vaccinated,” Moss responded. “What we don’t yet have enough information on is whether they can prevent that asymptomatic spread that we’ve heard so much about. Until we know more, it’s really just the same rules.”

Side effects from the vaccine were also a concern for residents Thursday, despite assurance from the CDC that any adverse effects would “go away in a few days.”

“It’s a very safe vaccine,” Smith said. “It cannot physically cause COVID disease and should be taken whenever you get the chance to take it.”

The biggest problem, doctors on the forum’s panel said, is the staggeringly small supply of vaccines for Californians. Only about 219,000 first doses of the vaccine have been given to county residents out of an estimated 1.6 million adults, according to the county.

A table showing the county’s vaccine efforts. Courtesy Santa Clara County Department of Public Health.

“This is a vaccine supply problem. This is not a vaccine delivery system issue,” said Rakesh Chaudhary, a physician at Kaiser Permanente. “We can do a lot more vaccines than we are doing now. The thing that is holding us back is vaccine supply.”

Local leaders are hoping to provide vaccinations for all residents by the summer, which they believe is a “realistic” timeframe. Both Moss and Smith promised vaccines are on the way, with seniors prioritized to get them first.

Smith shared numbers that show the county is on a consistent decline in positive cases since the beginning of the year but cautioned that there are significant disparities in positive cases between African Americans and Latinos compared to other races. The numbers of overall cases are “much higher than we’d like to see.”

“We’re on the good side of a spike,” he said. “Which is not to say that our rates of infection throughout the county are good. They’re not.”

For business owners like San Jose resident Austin Begiebing, founder of CrossFit Milpitas, relief can’t come soon enough.

“The ultimate goal is to scratch and claw and make it out the other end,” Begiebing said in an interview. “And when things start to open up and vaccines start to work, the virus dies down. Just trying to stay positive and hope that’s the case.”

According to a recent Bloomberg report, California ranks 33rd out of 50 states in administering vaccines for reasons that are still mostly unclear. Locally, Kaiser Permanente canceled over 5,000 appointments in its Silicon Valley facilities citing short supply. And two weeks earlier, the health care provider walked back promises that all residents aged 65 and up would be guaranteed vaccines in the next few days before reinstating the promise on Thursday.

County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody at a press conference Feb. 4 announces the new “no wrong door” policy for vaccinations in Santa Clara County.

Adding to the confusion: The county recently lifted its stay-at-home order per Newson’s direction after it reported increased ICU capacity at its local hospitals. The move has led to a patchwork system of opened and closed businesses across county lines.

Officials said there’s some positive news now that the county is guaranteeing vaccines for people aged 65 and up regardless of their health care provider, known as the county’s “no wrong door policy.”

Otto Lee warned residents to continue staying home — especially ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.

“This is the year that you really have to watch the Super Bowl separately. You can do it online,” Otto Lee said. “That’s the way we have to gather right now. Just hunker down, and in a few more months we can fight and beat this thing.”

As of Thursday, Santa Clara County has reported 103,748 total COVID-19 cases and 1,505 deaths. For the latest information on vaccine distribution, visit www.sccfreevax.org.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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