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June 13, 2021

County could begin vaccinating ages 12 to 15 this week

Officials explore options to increase local inoculation rate

San Benito County could begin administering Covid-19 vaccines to children as young as 12 years old by the end of this week, according to county officials.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this week authorized the Pfizer BioNTech two-dose vaccine for children ages 12 to 15. A couple more follow-up regulatory rounds of approval are expected throughout the week, and San Benito County Interim Public Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said at the May 11 board of supervisors meeting that the county could begin inoculating the younger age groups by the end of this week.

“This is super important because schools are probably going to be a significant source of the spread of Covid-19,” Ghilarducci told the board. “It will be important to continue to get those vaccination efforts to our younger population.”

As of May 11, San Benito County residents have received about 45,000 doses of three Covid-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. About 41 percent of the county is fully vaccinated.

Of local residents age 75 and older, 81 percent have received one dose of the vaccine, and 73 percent of this age group in San Benito County is fully vaccinated, Ghilarducci said.

By race and ethnicity, the county’s Latino population is the most vaccinated. About 40 percent of vaccines administered in the county have gone to Latinos. About 29 percent of all doses have been administered to white residents locally, according to data presented at the supervisors’ meeting.

But supervisors and local public health officials are worried that the rate of newly administered vaccines is starting to drop off. Most experts think a community, state or region cannot reach herd immunity until at least 70-80 percent of the population is vaccinated or otherwise immunized to Covid-19, and San Benito County is well below that rate.

Supervisors at the May 11 meeting discussed the idea of offering incentives such as gift cards to entice residents to become vaccinated. The board could not come to a consensus on using public funds for such an effort, but they collectively encouraged local businesses to donate meals, beverages or gift cards to customers willing to show proof they have been vaccinated.

Resident Elia Salinas told the board that a downtown Gilroy restaurant has made such an offer to its customers, prompting her to return to the business. Her experience illustrates how such incentives can generate more sales for the business while promoting public health.

Lynn Mello, Director of Public Health Nursing for San Benito County, added that the county has been in discussions with Hazel Hawkins Hospital to begin a program to bring vaccines to homebound residents.

San Benito County remains in the Orange Tier of the state’s Covid-19 reopening plan, indicating there is a moderate risk of transmission throughout the community. As of May 11, there have been 6,056 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in San Benito County, and 63 deaths related to the illness.

The case positivity rate is 2.2%, and the daily rate of new cases is 5.1 per 100,000, according to county health officials.

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