Santa Clara County unveils COVID-19 vaccine plan as hospitalizations hit records
Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, provides an update on hospitalizations on Dec. 2, 2020. Photo by Vicente Vera.

With COVID-19 vaccines potentially arriving in Santa Clara County within weeks, health officials released their plans for distribution amid a backdrop of record-setting hospitalizations.

The plans submitted to California detail how the county has assembled a task force composed of Santa Clara County health system hospitals, Stanford University, Kaiser Permanente, Palo Alto Medical Foundation and the Community Health Partnership.

The county has also created a task force for community outreach and equity.

Who gets the vaccine first is in the hands of state and federal leaders, local health officials said in a news conference Dec 2.

“At first the amount of vaccine will be limited. The national system of prioritization will direct the first doses to people who are at the highest risk, including those who work in health care and are on the front lines of exposure to COVID-19,” said Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

The county submitted its vaccine plan to California on Dec. 1. However, Tong said it’s too early to tell the exact number of vaccine the county will receive.

“The number of doses that we will receive will evolve quickly over time since there is more than one vaccine that is scheduled to be reviewed by the FDA over the next two weeks,” Tong said. “So we do not yet have firm numbers on the exact numbers that we will receive.”

This will affect the amount of ultra-freezers the county needs to store the Pfizer vaccine in dry ice, but that number also is subject to change.

“Literally before coming to the press conference, I was on the phone with a group that was telling me that freezers have arrived on a truck as of yesterday,” Tong said. “Multiple freezers have been installed in parts of county buildings that we own and operate, and there are additional freezers that are being purchased and installed by other private health care providers.”

Health officials say they aim to use the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds as a mass vaccination site when sufficient doses are available.

The county’s vaccine plans also detail the data and outreach system health officials will use to ensure people receive double doses of whichever vaccine is made available. The Pfizer vaccine requires a booster dose three weeks after people receive their first shot and Moderna requires a second injection four weeks after the first one.

People to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will set up appointments with an online program known as PrepMod, according to the plans.

“The patient will receive a vaccination card that accompanies the vaccine as a reminder and will leave with a second appointment for the subsequent dose,” the plans say. “We will utilize all modes of communication possible to systematically text, email and/or auto-call individuals for the second dose reminders.”

The county may switch from using PrepMod if it is not effective in the first phase.

Despite some people’s distrust of the vaccine because of its rapid development, Tong said drug companies have conducted thorough trials.

“What I can say is the vaccine has undergone clinical trials with thousands of people receiving it over the last many months,” she said. “What I hear from several friends, colleagues, even family members is that they don’t want to be the first person to receive the vaccine, and my response to that is ‘thank goodness you won’t have to be the first’ because we have had people who have volunteered to be first as part of these clinical trials.”

Tong said the initial vaccines the FDA approves will be scarce in supply and the general public must continue following the COVID-19 health order.

Although county officials said the first round of vaccines will likely go to health care workers, they did not specify who would be next in line.

“It’s just too early for us to tell,” Tong said. “The results of the clinical trials are still underway, still being evaluated, and at this point in time, children would not be most likely in the Phase 1A highest priority population, which includes health care workers and those who are living in congregate long-term care facilities.”

The vaccine plan announcement came the same day Santa Clara County reported nine children and four employees tested positive at Juvenile Hall and William F. James Ranch facilities, adding to the 801 new COVID-19 cases reported over Thanksgiving weekend.

Santa Clara County has recorded 35,457 COVID-19 infections and 482 deaths from the virus as of Dec. 1.

The county is also experiencing a record surge in hospitalizations. The five hospitals that serve the eastern and southern portions of the county collectively have less than a dozen ICU beds available, and only 44 ICU beds are available countywide, according to the county.

“We are still in the midst of this really, really concerning surge in cases and hospitalizations,” said County Counsel James Williams.

The steep rise prompted the county to pass additional travel restrictions, requiring people returning to the county from areas more than 150 miles away to quarantine for 14 days.

“The reason for putting in place a quarantine requirement for people returning from out of the area is to try it to help avoid some of that growth in cases to hopefully help contain spiraling chains of transmission that would occur from folks who did choose to travel,” said Williams.

However, the county’s enforcement measures for the travel quarantine remain unclear.

Williams said the county can receive reports of people breaking travel quarantine but did not specify if penalties would be enforced, adding “not everything is subject to an enforcement action at all times.”

“The directive is mandatory. It is part of the compliance efforts like all the other health orders. People can submit complaints to SCCCOVIDconcerns.org and we will follow up on those,” Williams said. “But just like our expectations around face coverings, just like our expectations around social distancing, we absolutely all need to do our collective part.”

Vicente Vera contributed to this report.

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

COVID-19 Vaccination Plan - Santa Clara County FINAL

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