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

‘Game changer’: With Santa Cruzans 65-plus now eligible for vaccine, here’s what to know

Californians 65 and older will now be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine sooner than originally thought after state officials announced an expanded vaccination schedule Wednesday. In Santa Cruz County, that means tens of thousands more people here will be eligible to receive the vaccine sooner than originally planned.

There are an estimated 15,796 people over the age of 75 and another 27,395 people between the ages of 65 and 74 in Santa Cruz County, 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. County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said that the 65-and-older population is slightly higher, at about 48,000.

Regardless, Wednesday’s development — detailed in the Q&A below — is a “game changer” for older adults living in fear of contracting the deadly virus, officials say.

But how quickly vaccines arrive in the county — only 200 might be arriving next week, officials say — remains an open question.

Here’s what we know and what we don’t:

Who gets priority?

Hoppin told Lookout Wednesday evening that, per Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directive, that people who fall into Phase 1a of the state’s vaccine plan “are still the priority” to be vaccinated first — and that the county will follow state guidelines for placing people into tiers within those phases.

Phase 1a — which comprises about 15,000 Santa Cruz County residents — includes hospital staff; skilled nursing facility and assisted nursing facility staff and residents; EMTs; paramedics; dialysis center staff; pharmacists and pharmacy workers; and dentists and oral health workers.

Of this group, about 2,000 are nursing home residents, who — along with nursing home staff — are being vaccinated under the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program which allows pharmacists to administer vaccines to this group. The vaccine doses administered to this group are from a separate vaccine allocation that does not include the doses received by the county.

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“We don’t have enough vaccine in hand yet to cover (the rest of the people who fall under Phase 1a),” Hoppin told Lookout Wednesday. However, “it does seem like the supply lines are going to be opening up sooner than later,” he added.

The big change that occurred Wednesday was that all Californians 65 and older were moved into the first tier of Phase 1b. Originally, that tier included individuals 75 and older.

How many doses does the county have and how many are distributed?

As of Wednesday morning, the county had received 6,825 Pfizer doses and 9,900 Moderna doses — a total of 16,725. Of that lot, about 5,315 doses had been distributed so far — just over a third of the available doses. The rest of the 11,410 doses are in freezers.

“We are only scheduled to get 200 doses next week at this time,” Hoppin said. County officials are unclear on why the next shipment is so small — last week’s shipment contained 6,000 doses — and what a normal shipment will contain going forward. “The county has not been giving nearly enough vaccine to (inoculate the larger group that will now be eligible),” he added.

This trend of slow vaccine distribution is one that is reflected statewide. As of Monday, California had received more than 2.4 million doses of vaccine, but less than one-third had been administered. There has been lower-than-expected demand from the health care and nursing home workers who have highest priority to receive the vaccines.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to improve the rollout, including handing out 1 million vaccines by the end of this week.

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.

How will I know it’s my turn?

County officials believe most of the doses to inoculate the expanded group of older adults will go to major health care providers like Kaiser and Sutter instead of the county. Hoppin said those systems will be “more and more important” and the county will work with them on efficient rollout of the vaccine.

”I expect a lot of (people aged 65 and up) will be receiving it through their health care providers,” Hoppin said. “If you have healthcare coverage, talk to your primary care physician.”

Here’s how to contact the major primary healthcare providers:

Kaiser: Members can contact their primary care provider here

Sutter Health: Members can contact their primary care provider here. Alternatively, Sutter Health says they will contact those who are eligible to receive the vaccine through My Health Online.

Dignity Health: Members can contact their primary care provider here

Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF): Members should contact PAMF here to schedule a vaccination appointment

California said it was setting up a notification system that would tell people when they would become eligible to get the vaccine.

Who’s next?

Here’s a look at the COVID-19 vaccination tiers laid out by the California Department of Public Health:

California Department of Health's COVID-19 vaccination tiers
(California Department of Public Health)

Have a question? Ask Lookout:

Contributor: LA Times

Editor’s note: This story will be updated as new information becomes available.