A man gets COVID-19 vaccine in Santa Cruz County on Jan. 12, 2021
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Vaccine Watch

Statewide vaccine mess has health systems here level-setting expectations

In Santa Cruz County, Dignity Health Medical Group-Dominican is offering vaccines to any patients 65 and older, a contrast to both Kaiser Permanente and Sutter/PAMF, who are only vaccinating those 75 and older at this time.

As California state health officials continued to struggle with supplying COVID-19 vaccines to Santa Cruzans and others eager to get them, the three major health systems that serve patients here were scrambling to set realistic expectations amid the unreliable supply.

Dignity Health Medical Group-Dominican is offering vaccines to any patients 65 and older, a contrast to both Kaiser Permanente and Sutter/PAMF, who are only vaccinating those 75 and older at this time.

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Sutter/PAMF late Tuesday afternoon sent a statement to the news media, including Lookout, stating that, “at present,” vaccine “appointments are available for Sutter patients who are 75 years old or older” along with “community health care workers,” and that “at this time vaccine supply remains limited.”

In a separate email to patients, Sutter wrote that “we anticipate opening vaccination to patients who are age 65 and older later this week. . . . We’re doing everything we can to meet demand, but we expect wait times on our phone scheduling line will remain high.”

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Kaiser Permanente, which also serves Santa Cruz County residents, was forced to cancel COVID-19 vaccine appointments for thousands of seniors in the Bay Area, as the supply they received from state officials did not match their expectations.

On Tuesday night, a Kaiser spokesperson reiterated that the “vaccine supply is limited and unpredictable at this time.”

“We have opened vaccination clinics in Scotts Valley and Watsonville and are vaccinating health care workers, Kaiser Permanente members and members of the community 75 years and older, as vaccine supplies allow,” the spokesperson said. “In Northern California, we have administered more than 200,000 doses of COVID vaccine and are committed to vaccinating our community as quickly as possible based on vaccine supplies we receive from the state.”

Dignity Health, one of the other providers serving Santa Cruz County, appears to be in better shape — though officials are warning patients that vaccine supply is unreliable.

Dr. Steve Magee, president of Dignity Health Medical Group-Dominican, said in a statement that Dignity’s parent company, CommonSpirit Health, “has continued to receive shipments of the vaccine to distribute among its hospitals and medical groups. As a result, Dignity Health Medical Group–Dominican has not experienced any unexpected shortages of the vaccine. Our supply of vaccine does change on week-to-week basis, and we will of course need to adjust accordingly.”

Magee added that, “While we will do everything we can to avoid cancelling scheduled clinics, that is a possibility in the future if vaccine supply changes significantly.”

Technically, all Californians 65 and older are eligible to be vaccinated. In Santa Cruz County, there are an estimated 15,796 people over the age of 75 and another 27,395 people between the ages of 65 and 74, according to a vaccine allocation tool created by Surgo Ventures and Ariadne Labs to help local governments plan for distribution. That amounts to 43,155 people.

Dignity says it has vaccinated more than 2,700 patients in Santa Cruz County. The other health systems haven’t provided county-specific numbers to Lookout.

Meanwhile, Santa Cruz County health officials to date have received a separate allotment of 22,475 vaccines, with 11,035 being put into arms. The remainder of those vaccines are all spoken for, including for required second doses. County officials are focused on vaccinating uninsured people over age 75, as well as any remaining health care workers.

The vaccination pipeline starts at the national level, where federal officials apportion doses for each state. States then allocate those doses.

The county health department and the major health systems are only two of the four avenues through which people are receiving the vaccine here. The others are the federal pharmacy partnership program for skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, and independent health care providers through CalVax.

County officials are encouraging people with insurance to schedule vaccination appointments through their primary care physicians or their health systems. Here’s how to contact the major primary health care providers for the Santa Cruz area:

Dignity Health-Dominican: Eligible patients should call (831) 288-6526 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to schedule an appointment, or use the online patient portal. More information is available here.

Kaiser: Members can sign in to the online portal to make an appointment, or call the appointment call center at 1-833-KP4CARE or 1-833-574-2273. More information is available here.

Sutter Health/Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF): Patients should use MyHealth Online or call (844) 987-6115 to schedule an appointment. They should not call their primary care provider’s office, as Sutter/PAMF says provider’s office are not able to book appointments or approve exceptions. More information is available here.

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