Vaccine
Maria Saravia gets vaccinated at Keck Hospital of USC. Saravia changes in and out of protective gear 24 times a day: once for each patient room she enters on the COVID-19 floor at the hospital. (Gabriella Robison / Keck Medicine of USC)
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Vaccine Watch

Vaccine guideline changes spark widespread confusion as distribution remains behind

One health system’s website crashed. People called another and got conflicting information. And there doesn’t appear to be enough vaccine supply to meet demand. Meanwhile, there’s a vaccine clinic in Santa Cruz County Friday, but appointments are already set. And other counties are struggling, too.

COVID-19 vaccination guidelines have undergone a series of massive changes this week, sparking both hope and confusion among the public; a flood of inquiries to health care networks; and concerns by some public health workers.

Early in the week, the Trump administration announced it would no longer hold back vaccines to provide second doses. Then, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that any qualified vaccine provider could sign up to receive training and not only administer but store and distribute vaccines through a new program called CalVax.

Vaccine Watch

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In a move that unleashed equal measures of hope and confusion Wednesday, California adopted the federal guidelines to allow anyone over 65 to be vaccinated.

People in this newly qualified tier were urged to contact their primary care providers — and they did. Sutter Health System’s website crashed given the number of inquiries from its patients.

Within Palo Alto Medical Foundation, some people were able to schedule vaccinations; others heard from the same organization that they were waiting for Santa Cruz County guidelines to be updated to include people 65 and older. The problem with the latter is that county spokesperson Jason Hoppin said there are “no such thing as county guidelines” — and that the county’s publicly posted information on state guidelines had been updated.

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The vaccine distribution issues here are playing out in counties statewide, according to a report by Kaiser Health news, a Lookout content partner.

With relatively little help from the federal government, each state has built its own vaccination rollout plan. In California, where public health is largely a county-level operation, the same departments managing testing and contact tracing for an out-of-control epidemic are leading the effort.

That puts an already beleaguered workforce at the helm of yet another time-consuming undertaking. The lack of resources and limited planning by the federal and state governments have made it that much harder to get operations up and running.

“We are flying the plane as we are building it,” Hoppin told Kaiser Health News. ”All of these logistical pieces are just a huge puzzle to work out.”

Lookout will continue to try sort through the confusion on Friday. County officials have scheduled a press conference is planned for 1 p.m. to provide the latest information on COVID-19. Lookout plans to broadcast this event at LookoutSantaCruz.com.

So far, it appears there aren’t even remotely enough vaccine doses in the county to vaccinate the 43,000 to 48,000 people who are now eligible to get inoculated under the state guidelines.

So far the county has received 16,725 doses. Of that, about 5,315 doses have been distributed so far — just over a third of the available doses. The rest of the 11,410 doses are in freezers.

County Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall told Lookout on Thursday that while she understands the state’s motivation in making more people eligible to be vaccinated, she is concerned that when you open vaccinations up to everyone over 65 at this point in time, “everyone feels the pressure to open it up to 65 [and older],” and that this could leave some of the essential and vulnerable people in phase 1a behind.

“We’re still 12,000 [doses] short of finishing phase 1a,” Hall said.

County vaccination efforts continue to focus on this group, which includes health care staff, assisted living facility staff/residents, dialysis center staff, home health and in-home supportive services workers, dental health workers, and pharmacy staff, among others.

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Hall says the county has an internal goal to “expend all the vaccine that we get within 10 days.” They will be retaining some vaccine for second doses, but are hoping to distribute about 11,000 doses within that time frame.

A key part of this effort will be a massive drive-through clinic facilitated by Sutter Health on Friday at the site of the old drive-in theater on Chanticleer Avenue. Hall said they are hoping to administer 1,000 vaccines, though a Sutter spokesperson cautioned they think “hundreds” is more realistic.

Those eligible for the clinic have already been contacted and given appointments, and that list includes people from both phase 1a and those 75 and older in phase 1b.

Sutter will continue to hold more drive-thru clinics at this site, serving persons in phase 1a and those over 75, a spokesperson for the health provider told Lookout.

Anyone who has had any Sutter Health encounter in the past two years should have an active Sutter medical record number and will be eligible for vaccination, the spokesperson said. Sutter is focusing on the 75-plus population for now before moving on to those between the ages of 65 and 74.

In response to the Sutter website crash on Thursday, the spokesperson told Lookout that “all the self booking is going to get easier” next week as people 75 and older will be able to book both through the phone and online system.

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