A healthcare worker in PPE takes the temperature of a person at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility on Dec. 10, 2020.
Health care worker Gabi Sermeno from Santa Cruz Community Health takes the temperature of a person at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility on Dec. 10, 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID 2021

1,590 COVID-19 vaccine doses headed to Santa Cruz County. How will they get distributed?

Drive-thru vaccinations? That’s entirely possible under the county’s vaccine distribution plan.

Santa Cruz County health officials submitted a 28-page COVID-19 vaccine plan to state officials Thursday as they prepare for the first doses to arrive in just a few days. The plan was released on the same day that a U.S. government advisory panel recommended approving the emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA is expected to follow the recommendation and issue its decision within days.

California’s first shipment of vaccines will include 327,000 doses and is expected to reach hospitals between Saturday and Tuesday, according to a report by our content partner, the LA Times. In this first shipment, Santa Cruz County will be receiving 1,590 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, according to county communications manager Jason Hoppin.

The county’s plan lays out to state health officials on how local officials will manage inoculation of residents following the priorities set by federal and state guidelines.

“A limited initial delivery of COVID-19 vaccine may occur as early as next week, with distribution reserved for local hospitals,” county officials wrote in a press release Thursday. But they also warned that “widespread distribution (of the vaccine) may not occur for several months,” making facemasks and coverings a requirement for a good deal longer.

Who will get the vaccine first?

Phases of distribution of COVID-19 vaccine
(via California Department of Public Health)

California will focus its efforts on first vaccinating its critical populations in two sub-phases. The first group of people — in Phase 1A — to receive the vaccine will be health care workers who treat COVID-19 patients and who are being exposed and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The next batch — Phase 1B — will include people at increased risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19 and other essential workers.

Older adults who live at home will see longer wait times for the vaccine. Read here what seniors should expect.

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How will Santa Cruz County distribute the vaccine?

As the vaccine becomes available to wider groups of people, local health officials say they will coordinate with local primary care providers, clinics and pharmacies to distribute the vaccine. “Potential mass vaccination strategies include community drive-through points-of-distribution (PODs) and other pop-up facilities,” the county wrote in its plan.

Drive-thru locations: For those who cannot get vaccinated through their primary care physicians, the county plans on setting up drive-thru vaccination ‘PODs.’ The drive-thru locations will eliminate crowd control efforts and help with safe social distancing. They also will also allow members of the same household to be vaccinated in one go.

Non-drive-thru locations: When a drive-thru set up is not possible, Santa Cruz County will ensure there is staffing on-site to manage crowd control, social distancing and mask-wearing.

No locations for mass distribution sites have been finalized yet, officials wrote.

How many doses of the vaccine will you need?

The vaccine requires two shots administered 21 days apart to reach the 95% effectiveness established in clinical trials. By the end of the year, California expects to have given the first dose of the vaccine to 2.16 million people who are in the group that’s first in line — healthcare workers, as well as residents of long-term care facilities.

How will the county ensure that people know when they need to get the second dose?

According to the county’s plan, at the first vaccination appointment, providers will be required to enter vaccination information into the California Immunization Registry (CAIR), which will be referenced when administering the second dose.

Also, people who received the first dose will be given the CDC/CDPH vaccine reminder card that will include instructions for when they need to return for the second dose.

“This reminder card will serve a dual purpose to provide patients and other providers documentation regarding the specific type of vaccination administered to the patient,” the county wrote in its plan. “It will be recommended that patients bring this card to their appointment for the second dose of the vaccination.”

The county’s COVID-19 Vaccination Division will also review CAIR data to check for over-due vaccines and follow up with providers on a bi-weekly basis.

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How is the county preparing the people who will administer the vaccines?

The Santa Cruz County Health Care Coalition is planning a process of bi-weekly meetings and a series of four COVID-19 readiness trainings for healthcare workers who will be administering the vaccine. Among health care organizations who will help in this effort:

  • Salud Para La Gente
  • Santa Cruz Community Health Center
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Santa Cruz County Clinics
  • Central California Alliance for Health (CCAH)

Who will be staffing the mass vaccination PODs in Santa Cruz County?


To prevent staff burnout, county officials told the state they plan to have a diverse pool to build capacity for backup staffing in case scheduled staff members should fall ill.

The county says it will use a combination of county staff, staff deployed as disaster service workers, volunteers from the Volunteer Initiative Program (VIP), Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), various community partnerships that include local health partners, and contracted medical staffing companies like Maxim Healthcare and/or Santa Cruz Occupational Medical Center in order to staff mass vaccination PODs.

The county also has agreements in place with the medical departments from several local universities and colleges like Cabrillo College, San Jose State University, UC Santa Cruz and Cal State University Monterey Bay. The schools will provide the local health department with volunteers with a medical health background.

How will the county ensure vaccine doses are being stored correctly?


The county says it has already estimated storage capacity for refrigerated, frozen, and ultra-cold vaccines in the event that providers are unable to receive them. The county’s public health department also plans to partner with UCSC for support storage.

How will the county ensure the homeless population is getting vaccinated?

According to the biennial Santa Cruz County homeless census conducted by Housing Matters in Jan. 2019, there were more than 2,000 unhoused people in Santa Cruz. Since then, the number of homeless people in the county has likely increased due to the economic climate of 2020.

One of Santa Cruz County’s health centers, the Homeless Persons Health Project, will study how to reach and administer the vaccine to those who are experiencing homelessness. They might also collaborate with the Santa Cruz County’s Clinic Services Division to reach populations who tend to be underinsured or have financial barriers when accessing health care.

The Homeless Persons Health Project mobile outreach unit has the ability to serve as a mobile POD to serve hard-to-reach populations — and those that are unable to physically come into a clinic, officials wrote.

Read the county’s full plan for deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine below: