Santa Clara County proposes plan to obtain more vaccination data
Health care services line director Cindy Harmer flicks any air out of the syringe containing the COVID-19 vaccine at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif. (San José Spotlight/Vicente Vera, Pool)

Santa Clara County has used less than half the vaccines the county received, but county leaders say the real problem is a lack of data from hospitals on how many shots they’re giving.

The Board of Supervisors proposed a plan on Jan. 5 to receive data from every hospital and clinic administering vaccinations in the county. They expect to approve a finalized plan by Jan. 26.

“We have no jurisdiction over them but they have the responsibility for serving their patients for the county where we will be the recipients of the vaccine from and through the state,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian.

County leaders also said hospitals need to broaden who they offer the vaccine to, and that hospitals’ priority groups may be too narrow.

“Taking too fine a slice in looking at Phase 1A, Tier one before we get to the next tier means that we are not moving the vaccine out as quickly as we can to as many people as we can,” Simitian said.

The Tier 1 of Phase 1A includes health care workers at the highest risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

Although Santa Clara County health officials oversee vaccine distribution at a local level, the state is in charge of allocating vaccines to hospitals attached to larger companies such as Kaiser Permanente or the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

Around 1 million of the county’s resident’s are under the care of these hospitals, according to the county’s proposal.

The supervisors plan to ask for vaccination data from those hospitals as well as the Veterans Affairs hospitals and other federal programs not under their purview.

Board President Cindy Chavez said obtaining data from those hospitals would provide a better idea how fast people are being vaccinated in the county.

“Part of the reason that Supervisor Simitian and I are requesting this transparency is that the state is communicating directly with the entities like Sutter and Kaiser,” Chavez said. “The U.S. federal government’s communicating directly with the VA hospitals, but that doesn’t tell us how far or how fast we’re moving within the county.”

As of Jan. 8, the county has only vaccinated about 47,000 people after receiving 110,000 vaccines so far, said County COVID-19 Testing Officer Marty Fenstersheib. At least 122,950 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been allotted for the county.

The 47,000 people vaccinated in Santa Clara County do not include shots given at Veterans Affairs clinics and federal programs.

However, obtaining data from federal programs may be more difficult than private hospitals. Simitian said the county cannot force the programs to hand over their data.

“If you take just a moment to look at the numbers, we can’t afford to lose a month,” Simiatian said during a briefing Monday. “We can’t afford to lose a week. We cannot afford to lose a single day.”

But neither health officials, nor the supervisors, have come up with a concrete reason for the lag.

On Jan. 8, health officials tied slow vaccination rates to health care workers hesitating to take the vaccine and the time it takes to ship and store the vaccine. However, they presented no data on how many people are declining a vaccine.

However, Simitian said obtaining vaccination numbers is only one step to speeding up vaccination rates in the county, .

“The data is not an end in and of itself,” he said. “It’s the tool we use to make sure that we get to everyone in the county. And I think it’s important that that be the bottom line because we can’t simply dismiss this as a paperwork requirement. It is the essential ingredient in a plan that really does address the health and well being of every resident of the county.”

The plan also addresses connecting with people who lack a health care provider or are not close to the county’s hospital network.

County leaders said they aim to create partnerships with community health clinics to expand their reach with vaccinations and appear to have already enlisted help from Dolores Alvarado, the CEO of the Community Health Partnership, which serves some of the areas of the county hardest hit by COVID-19 such as East San Jose.

Alvarado said health officials must quell misinformation from spreading in underserved communities and assure accessibility to the vaccine.

“(The plan) has to address and build a confidence that the dose will be available for everyone when it’s their turn,” Alvarado said. “That’s what the community wants to hear … when am I going to get the vaccine, where do I go, and when I arrive will it be there.”

Despite county leaders outlining a clear need to expand distribution to sites far beyond their own hospitals, they still need to assess whether they have sufficient doses and staff to use more facilities, such as Levi’s Stadium, for mass vaccination sites.

Santa Clara County has 7% of it’s Intensive Care Unit beds left. The county has recorded at least 84,726 cumulative COVID-19 cases and 944 deaths as of Jan. 7. At least 1,092 of those cases and 25 of those deaths were from the last few days.

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

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