By Kollin Kosmicki
Understandably, the public has been confused and frustrated about the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in San Benito County and throughout California.
While supply has been an issue throughout the state, it is particularly alarming in our community. On a per-capita basis compared with other counties, San Benito is receiving far fewer doses than we should get.
Through the week ending Jan. 30, San Benito County had received about 2,800 vaccine doses from the state. This includes just 600 doses last week, with an expectation for just 400 doses this week. These numbers—accounting for population—are much lower than surrounding counties and other California communities. This helps to explain why so few local residents have had vaccine appointments.
This supply limitation along with the state’s tendency to change course—such as Blue Shield taking over vaccine administration in about two weeks—have left our Public Health Services department without the ability to communicate an immediate, firm plan. Our residents, as a result, have felt left in the dark.
County officials recognize this uncertainty’s severity and are working diligently to curtail it in spite of current supply challenges.
The first priority is addressing the supply shortage itself. Supervisors and other top officials have been on the phones and in meetings advocating aggressively for more doses while underscoring the rollout’s lacking equitability.
Our state representatives are well aware of this discrepancy and they are working hard to lobby state leadership for more doses. We are being assured the numbers will increase in due time.
Meanwhile, Board Chairman Mark Medina recently appointed Supervisor Bob Tiffany and me to an ad hoc committee working with staff to shore up communication and ensure we are prepared for a dosage surge when that occurs.
As of this week, we had over 7,000 residents registered for vaccine appointments through the county’s online vaccine portal ( hhsa.cosb.us/vaccine-registration-portal) which allows Public Health to contact residents when they are eligible for a dose. Considering most of our supply has gone to people in healthcare, it’s clear why the vast majority of others—even senior citizens—have yet to get a vaccine appointment.
San Benito County just this past week entered the rollout’s Phase 1B allowing doses for residents over age 65 and people in education, childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture sectors. This is a robust group of eligible residents, and it will take months to move through this phase.
The key messages residents must keep in mind, therefore, are to remain patient in these initial stages of the rollout, avoid a sense of false optimism about rapid distribution and remain vigilant with safe practices. The most optimistic time frame for the general public to expect first doses of vaccines, after all, is mid-spring. Personally, I’m not expecting it until summer at the earliest.
That said, the county is continuing to ramp up efforts on logistics and communication while dose numbers remain low.
The county is working to send an informational mailer to all San Benito County households on how, when and where residents can receive a vaccine at the appropriate time.
As for the actual distribution, the plan for now—keeping in mind the state’s fluidity—is a hybrid approach focused on equitable access.
This includes more frequent mass-vaccination clinics at various sites throughout the county to reach large swaths of the general public. It includes using a limited number of outside distributors such as pharmacies, clinics and practitioners. Meanwhile, talks are under way to reach our vulnerable farmworker population by holding remote mass vaccination clinics in an agricultural setting.
Right now with limited supply, much of the distribution is happening through outside entities by appointment, while the county held its first mass-vaccination clinic Jan. 29—also by appointment—for residents at the highest age range who registered on the portal.
While we await more doses, please remain patient, register on the portal when you’re eligible for a vaccine and trust the county will communicate openly when we have answers.
Kollin Kosmicki is District 2 Supervisor for San Benito County.