South Bay health officials are calling on the federal government to increase COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution amid a sluggish vaccine rollout that led to thousands of canceled appointments.
“We’re only seeing probably less than half of the vaccine that we need at this point,” said Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County COVID-19 testing officer, at a town hall hosted by state Sen. Dave Cortese this week. “We can certainly use more — we have the capacity — but we have no control over the allocation.”
Fenstersheib said the county needs 100,000 doses every week to get everyone who is eligible vaccinated by August.
The county is currently only receiving 40,000 doses a week from the federal government.
The pleas from local officials come as the county announced this week it’s partnering with the San Francisco 49ers to create the largest vaccination site at Levi’s Stadium. The site will open early next week and will vaccinate 5,000 people per day, with plans to increase capacity up to 15,000 people per day as vaccine supplies increase.
“We recognize the urgent need for an effective and equitable vaccination effort for our community and are proud to partner with the County of Santa Clara to bring this vaccination site online as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said 49ers President Al Guido. “We have brought every resource at our disposal to bear on this challenge to ensure members of the community we live in each and every day can be vaccinated safely and quickly.”
In total, approximately 1,000,500 county residents are eligible to be vaccinated, Fenstersheib said. Patients must be 16 and older for the Pfizer vaccine and 18 and older for the Moderna vaccine.
If the federal government doesn’t ramp up production, Fenstersheib warned, the vaccination effort won’t be done until late summer or fall.
California’s vaccine rollout per capita has been among the slowest in the country — in late January, it ranked dead last in vaccine administration among all states. In an effort to accelerate vaccination efforts, the state on Jan. 26 announced new age-based guidelines for vaccine eligibility. In Santa Clara County, anyone over age 65 can get vaccinated at any health care facility, regardless of their health care provider.
In addition to Levi’s Stadium next week, mass vaccination sites in the county have been set up at Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose, Berger Drive in San Jose and the Mountain View Community Center as well as other community clinics.
“We could move to get more of these mass sites, but we need the vaccine,” Fenstersheib said. “There’s no sense in setting up these mass sites if we have no vaccines to give in those locations.”
As of Wednesday, 7.7% of Californians have received at least one dose and 1.6% have received both doses, according to NPR’s vaccination tracker. California currently ranks 28th in vaccine administration among U.S. states.
Fenstersheib said a national strategy would make more sense instead of “every state having to figure this out for themselves throughout the pandemic.”
States receive weekly vaccine allocations from the federal government based on their total adult populations. It’s up to each state to create a rollout plan for health offices, hospitals, pharmacies, mass vaccination sites and mobile clinics. Vaccine prioritization and policies vary from county to county and even between health care providers in the same county.
The same piecemeal approach applies to school reopening guidelines, Cortese said, which has further complicated vaccination efforts and led to confusion. There are nearly 30 school districts countywide, each with its own independent decision-making body and superintendent who decides if the school is ready to reopen.
“(To get more people immunized), we need to get some help from Washington and the state to line that up — to get the vaccines here and to make sure that the school districts in the state of California have a solid, unified plan as to how they’re going to proceed,” Cortese said.
Local leaders are optimistic, however, that a new administration will boost local efforts. Under the Biden administration’s pandemic strategy, states can expect more reliable projections of vaccination allocations and federally organized mass vaccination sites.
The administration is also working on a deal to purchase an additional 200 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna, and it plans to use the Defense Production Act to increase production of supplies like syringes and protective gear.
“We need to strive to still be vigilant and patient while we wait for our turn,” Fenstersheib said, urging county residents to wear masks and maintain social distance. “… It won’t be that long until everyone has been vaccinated and we can get out of this.”
As of Saturday, Santa Clara County reported 104,609 total COVID-19 cases and 1,523 deaths. The county has administered 246,463 vaccine doses as of Friday, with 63,265 appointments scheduled for the next seven days.
Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. — San Jose resident Patricia Dowd.
“Since her passing, we have lost more than 1,500 friends, neighbors and loved ones in Santa Clara County, and 460,000 Americans,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. “As we continue to mourn our neighbors, friends and loved ones taken from us too soon, we come together through our common suffering to summon uncommon strength.”
For the latest information on vaccine eligibility and distribution, visit www.sccfreevax.org.
Contact Sheila Tran at [email protected]