Quick Take:

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a chaotic work-in-progress, but we’ve got some answers on the basic questions for you.

As the U.S. embarks on its greatest ever mass vaccination effort, the hope offered by the vaccine has been tempered by confusion and delays in distribution. Officials are hoping this will improve as logistics are ironed out. Still, this leaves most of the public eagerly awaiting their turn without a clear idea of how and when it will happen.

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.

Vaccines in California are being distributed through four different channels. The channel your vaccine comes through will mostly depend on your job, insurance status, and living situation.

Here are the four options and who they are serving:

Multi-county health systems: These are the big health networks that span multiple counties in California. In Santa Cruz, this includes Sutter/PAMF, Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente and the UC health system. Most of the general public will likely get their vaccination through this system by calling their doctor’s office to make an appointment as soon as they are eligible. Right now in Santa Cruz eligible people are those frontline healthcare workers and first responders, dental workers in phase 1A, and those 75 and older.

Federal pharmacy partnership: This is a program run by the CDC in partnership with national pharmacy chains to distribute vaccines to nursing homes and residential care facility residents and staff.

Local health jurisdiction (Santa Cruz County Health Department): Until this point, the county has been the biggest player in vaccinations, but county spokesperson Jason Hoppin said they will become less and less important as the health systems begin to play a larger role in getting doses out to the general public. The county is responsible for distribution of most of the phase 1A vaccines, with the exception of nursing home residents.

Independent providers: A new development is that independent providers — such as small healthcare groups and private doctors — can sign up to receive shipments of vaccines and distribute the vaccines themselves. County health services director Mimi Hall said this will be especially important in relatively small counties like Santa Cruz where the public health office has limited capacity to oversee distribution of vaccines while trying to continue outbreak control and other aspects of pandemic response.

So far the county has received about 16,000 doses of vaccine. This is all going towards vaccinating people in phase 1a, the phase that includes frontline health care workers, first responders, dental workers and pharmacists, among others — and about half of the allotment is in reserve to provide second doses.

A total of approximately 29,000 doses is needed to fully vaccinate the 14,700 people in phase 1a in Santa Cruz; therefore, the county is far from completing phase 1A. Supply continues to be an issue: while county officials received an unusually large shipment of about 9,000 doses earlier this week, next week’s shipment is only 200.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s emergency medical services director, said that so far at least 5,600 injections have happened in Santa Cruz County, though the true number is probably higher. Problems with the state data system for reporting vaccinations are preventing the county from being able to know exactly how many vaccines have been administered locally — or even how many have been distributed to outside agencies such as Sutter/PAMF, Dignity, and the other health care providers. They do know that the staff at the county’s local acute care hospitals — Dominican and Watsonville — have begun receiving their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

As the vaccine rollout continues, the health systems are fulfilling a greater role, and Sutter and Dignity have started offering vaccine appointments to their patients in phase 1a, as well as patients over 65 (Dignity) and 75 (Sutter/PAMF). According to its website, Kaiser is still restricted to phase 1a.

While there is no official registry to “sign up for a vaccine,” there are a few different ways to make sure you are in line to get it.

  • If you are someone in phase 1A by virtue of your profession, you should be notified by either the county or your employer.
  • If you are eligible because of your age (technically over 65, although most health systems are starting with 75 and over) call your doctor or any local health system to make an appointment.
  • If you are a business owner or self-employed and you believe you or your employees are in a high priority group (for example, home health care or child care providers, or the owner of a child care center) fill out this survey from the county.

The county and state also both have hotlines available to answer COVID-19 and vaccination questions. The county number is 831-454-4242 and the state number is 833-422-4255 (833-4CA-4ALL).

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Follow Mallory Pickett on: Twitter. Mallory brings deep expertise in environmental issues to Lookout, as well as national reporting experience that she will now apply in her hometown of Santa Cruz. She...