UCLA nurse Eunice Lee prepares a syringe of a Covid-19 vaccine for health care workers at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Vaccine Watch

7,800 vaccine doses now here in SC County, but getting them into arms proves difficult

Just as has been the case statewide, distributing coronavirus vaccines in Santa Cruz County has been a slog, with officials here citing staffing shortages and storage challenges as among the reasons for the delay.

Vaccine Watch

Lookout’s Vaccine Watch, the latest on vaccine distribution countywide, is among eight Lookout initiatives documenting all aspects of the pandemic. For more, go to our COVID 2021 section, sign up for COVID Text Alerts and our COVID PM newsletter here, and leave feedback and ask questions at the end of this story.

To date, county public health officials have received 7,800 vaccine doses, of which 3,505 have been distributed to vaccinate people in phase 1a of California’s distribution plan.

This phase includes a total of about 15,000 people in Santa Cruz County: 10,000 hospital and other health care staffers, around 400 EMTs and paramedics, and about 4,900 residents of nursing homes and other congregate care facilities.

According to a rough timeline presented by California’s vaccine drafting guidelines working group in December, the goal was for phase 1a vaccination to be completed by the end of 2020. But county spokesperson Jason Hoppin said Tuesday that officials are “still working down the tier 1a list.”

Those who didn’t get the Pfizer or Moderna shots include some who were out of town or were ill and had to defer, said...

Making the vaccine picture even murkier is that nursing home vaccinations are being conducted through the federal pharmacy partnership, independent of county vaccine allocations. Updates from that program are not public, but according to Lookout’s reporting, local nursing home vaccinations are not complete.

For health officials, the reasons for the challenges in distributing the vaccine have varied. Finding enough people to administer the shots has been difficult, according to Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county emergency medical services director. One of Ghilarducci’s biggest frustrations has been seeing health departments shrink to a “skeleton staff” over the years.

“We just don’t have the capacity to give the shots,” he said. Other challenges include the special freezer and storage conditions for the vaccines.

Another part of the hold-up, Hoppin said in an email, is that “due to the storage and delivery (logistics) requirements, we cannot immediately deliver all our allocated doses because we need to assure partners have a distribution plan and adequate storage (or a plan to immediately administer if they don’t have adequate storage, which few do — especially for ultracold storage of the Pfizer doses). We don’t want spoilage or waste.”

These logistical difficulties are playing out all across the state: Only about 35% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses that have arrived in California have been administered so far, a rate Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged Monday was “not good enough” as he pledged new funding and efforts aimed at ramping up the rollout.

Locally, another difficulty is that county health officials say they are unable to access the state vaccine records which would tell them not just how many doses have been distributed, but how many have actually been administered.

Without access to those records, the public health department has no record of what happens to the vaccines after they’re delivered to the health care facility administering them. Of the 3,500 doses distributed, there is no local record of how many actually made their way into someone’s arm.

County health spokesperson Corinne Hyland said they “hope the state will provide a dashboard in the near future.”

Once phase 1a vaccinations are complete, phase 1b will begin — a transition the California vaccine distribution group was hoping would begin this month. The people included in that group are still being finalized, but according to draft guidelines this will likely begin with teachers, workers in childcare, food and agriculture, emergency services and those over 75.

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Contributing, LA Times