Santa Clara County prepares for arrival of COVID-19 vaccine
Santa Clara County expects to receive 56,850 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the first round of distribution. File photo.

    Santa Clara County health officials are preparing for the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine — which could be within two weeks — with a detailed plan to store, deliver and distribute it.

    “We have to be prepared for whatever comes out. We can’t be deciding on what to do with them once we’re told which vaccines,” Santa Clara County COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said in early November. “We have to prepare for all possibilities.”

    A county spokesperson said Santa Clara County had to submit its plan to the state by Dec. 1 and more information on distribution will be released Dec. 2.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week 327,000 doses of the new Pfizer vaccine will be available in California in mid-December but did not specify how it would be divided among counties.

    Health officials had to start drafting plans on Nov. 3 without knowing the number of doses and the specific vaccine that would be provided to the county.

    “There’s a great deal of information that we don’t know about the vaccine,” Fenstersheib said.

    Because one of the vaccines needs to be stored with dry ice at extremely cold temperatures, Fenstersheib said Santa Clara County’s plans include having enough ultra-freezers and transportation units.

    Pfizer and Moderna have both submitted vaccines to the FDA for approval. Once a vaccine is approved, the CDC will decide which groups receive it first, and leave it up to states to refine distribution lists.

    In Santa Clara County, health officials and nonprofit leaders have been conducting outreach about vaccines.

    In East San Jose, one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19, Community Health Partnership CEO Dolores Alvarado said she has observed misinformation persisting in Latinx communities. The Community Health Partnership is a nonprofit that serves about 130,000 people in Santa Clara County.

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    “What we’re finding is really sad,” Alvarado said. “There’s still a tremendous amount of miscommunication. Lots of myths.”

    She said many people lack crucial information about vaccines and COVID-19 because often they are not seeing the county’s updates and social media posts.

    “Some people think that we already have the vaccine, which of course we don’t,” Alvarado said. “Some people think that the vaccine is going to be mixed with the flu vaccine and then other people think that it’s going to be mixed with the flu vaccine and the childhood vaccinations.”

    Often this is because families lack WiFi, she said, which can disconnect them from medical experts and public health officials.

    To quell misinformation, Alvarado said the Community Health Partnership has been incorporating information about COVID-19 in its  outreach programs, such as breast cancer exam education and uterine cancer prevention.

    “At first we thought, ‘Oh, they’re not going to like that because they just want to talk about female stuff,’” Alvarado said. “No, they love it. They absolutely love it. And then what we’ve noticed is that they start bringing in their tías (aunts) or their daughters to listen to that portion of the lecture.”

    Health officials said they have partnered with local organizations to conduct outreach and ensure equity in the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

    “We have a vaccine task force, which is made up not only of our internal people … but we have a very large external inclusive task force,” Fenstersheib said. “We have all the hospitals at the table, the Community Health Partnership clinics at the table and many other providers, including those working in the most vulnerable communities.”

    The vaccine preparations come as Santa Clara County tallied 801 new COVID-19 cases within one day, setting a grim new record. Health officials have recorded 35,457 COVID-19 infections and 482 deaths from the disease in the county as of Dec. 1.

    Although no cause has been tied to the most recent surge in cases, many business owners received fines and citations for violating the county health order over the holiday break.

    Business compliance officers issued 181 fines to establishments across the county, totaling up to $115,000. The penalties varied, with the lowest fine at $250 and the highest fine at $3,750.

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

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