Santa Clara County lags behind in COVID vaccination rates
Alexandra Murdough, a registered nurse in the COVID-19 ICU unit at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, gets a bandaid applied after receiving the first dose of the vaccine in January 2021. Photo by Vicente Vera.

Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to lag behind other large counties in the Bay Area. Officials hope a new federal vaccine supply will help close the gap.

The county celebrated last week as it received an extra 300,000 doses from a federal program, releasing thousands of additional appointments across the South Bay. All Californians 16 and older are eligible for a vaccine appointment.

“We encourage everyone who is eligible to sign up for an appointment now,” said Jennifer Tong, assistant chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “This includes our community members who have already had COVID-19 and have recovered. The vaccines are our most critical and effective tools to protect you and your loved ones, especially with variants of the virus circulating in our community.”

The increase in supplies comes as Santa Clara County falls behind in vaccination rates among five most populous Bay Area counties, according to a San José Spotlight analysis of state data.

As of last week, 60% of eligible county residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. In comparison, 64.9% of eligible residents in Contra Costa County are at least partially vaccinated, the analysis shows. Roughly 62.7% of residents 16 and older in San Francisco have received at least one dose of vaccine, as have 62.5% in San Mateo County. In Alameda County, the second most populous county in the area, 60.9% of residents are at least partially vaccinated.

Santa Clara County also falls behind in its fully vaccinated rate (33.2%), according to the data. San Mateo leads at 41.3%, followed by San Francisco at 40.9%. Alameda County, at 39.2%, outpaces Santa Clara County in the number of doses administered to residents until at least March.

For months, Santa Clara County officials lamented the lack of COVID-19 vaccinations from the state’s distribution—a system that doesn’t guarantee a set number of dose allocations per week. It was made more complicated since third-party distribution company Blue Shield took over in March.

California introduced a health index in March that designated 40% of its vaccine supply to the 400 most at-risk ZIP codes, but it did not include Santa Clara County. Officials cried foul, claiming the plan would hurt the county’s most vulnerable populations.

Officials are hopeful with the new federal supply coming through several qualified clinics in the county. Upon receiving the additional doses last week, Santa Clara County administered roughly 70,000 vaccines in three days as the vaccination site at Levi’s Stadium also saw a record-breaking number of inoculations.

“Our demands have outweighed our capacity for a long time,” COVID-19 Testing Officer Marty Fenstersheib said last week. “We haven’t gotten a fair share of doses … This is an appropriate amount of vaccines.”

County officials partnered with local and federal agencies earlier this year to build infrastructure, including the mass vaccination site at Levi’s Stadium, and increase vaccine accessibility in the most-needed areas.

“This is close to four to five times the vaccines we have been getting,” Supervisor Otto Lee said. “This is really a game changer.”

Santa Clara County often received about a third of its capacity, Fenstersheib told the Board of Supervisors this month. According to state data, the county received between 8,600 and 60,000 doses per week from December to February.

Those numbers increased significantly over the last two months, helping Santa Clara County close the gaps with neighboring counties, the data shows.

Within the first two weeks of April, Santa Clara County administered more than 346,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses. The county gave out 487,000 doses in total in March. That translates to a 20% jump in the partially vaccinated rate since the end of last month.

The lack of supplies—and state direction—in previous weeks led to disagreement between the county and Kaiser, who alleged Santa Clara County mismanaged doses and unlawfully transferred thousands of appointments to Kaiser’s system.

The county continues to halt the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Residents can schedule first dose appointments up to one week in advance through sccfreevax.org or by calling 211.

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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