With multiple paths for accessing a COVID-19 vaccine opening up but no guiding centralized system for booking an appointment, San Mateo County residents have been tasked with hunting down appointments on their own.
Unlike neighboring jurisdictions, the county does not have a standing vaccination site where those eligible can book an appointment regardless of insurance status or provider, said Preston Merchant, spokesman for San Mateo County Health.
The San Mateo County Event Center has been used as temporary clinics by multiple providers, including Sutter Health which has stated it would use the site to vaccinate up to 5,000 patients a day as long as doses are available. But limited and unpredictable shipments have made it difficult to plan further than a week ahead of when setting up the sites, said Merchant.
And while the county is also launching a pilot mass vaccination site at the San Francisco International Airport, residents are still encouraged to contact their primary care provider with vaccine inquiries, said Merchant. SFO appointments are being offered to those 65 and older regardless of insurance coverage and will be expanded to teachers, nonmedical first responders, retail employees and farm workers starting Feb. 22.
“When we have more supply we’ll be able to plan for more sites and more times. We just don’t know,” said Merchant, noting the county has steadily received 9,000 to 11,000 doses per week.
The county plans to eventually set up a call center but, in the meantime, residents are left with a fragmented search for vaccine appointments and information. The center would be used for contacting those the county is responsible for vaccinating, including the homeless, uninsured, insured by small private care providers or covered by county programs.
County Manager Mike Callagy said previously the center could be expanded to field calls from any resident but with “hundreds of thousands” of inquiries coming in, he said the county is unable to fulfill the need at this point. Residents may also direct inquiries to COVIDvax@smcgov.org.
Large health care systems, referred to as multicounty entities, include Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and Dignity Health. Each is responsible for vaccinating their own patients. Sutter, Dignity and the county have opened vaccines to those ages 65 and older while also vaccinating health care workers at high risk of contracting the virus.
Kaiser, still focused on vaccinated health care workers and patients aged 75 and older, has not expanded its age eligibility. The medical provider will reach out to patients through email and letter when eligible. Patients will then be directed to a website and phone number to book their appointment. Dignity Health is also reaching out to its eligible patients.
Commercial pharmacies CVS and Walgreens are also still vaccinating residents of congregate care facilities through a partnership with the state, said Merchant.
Some CVS and Rite Aid stores have also begun opening vaccine appointments at various locations across the county. Rite Aid is only accepting appointments through its online portal and cannot make appointments over the phone by calling store locations. CVS is taking appointments through its website CVS.com and by calling (800) 746-7287.
Vaccine appointments through the county, Sutter and Kaiser are being offered predominantly online, though phone assistance is also available.
At vaccination sites, two different models have been deployed. Sutter, Kaiser and participating pharmacies are using a walk-up model, while the county and Dignity Health have selected drive-thru models.
Both vaccine models require the patient to wait in an observation area for 15 to 30 minutes either sitting in an open area or within their vehicle, to ensure serious side effects are treated. Side effects can include fevers, fatigue, muscle aches and soreness around injection sites.
While federally issued identification is required when being vaccinated through CVS and Rite Aid, Sutter will accept other forms of identification including a paystub, said a representative and the county will also work with residents without identification, said Merchant.
After receiving the vaccine, patients will be given an immunization card for their own record and a record will also be kept within a state vaccine database. An appointment to receive the second dose will be made immediately when checking in for the first.
But supply remains greatly limited, said Merchant, noting that expanding operations hinges on accessing additional shipments. To date, nearly 110,000 residents have been vaccinated, just more than 17% of the county’s population ages 16 and older.
“Until we have more supply we’re not able to vaccinate as many people as broadly or quickly as we would like,” said Merchant. “So it’s currently a challenge but we’re hoping vaccine supply will increase.”
Visit San Mateo County Health at smchealth.org/covidvaccine for more vaccination information about each provider.
Visit patient.carbonhealth.com/?_branch_match_id=763671680487214616#/schedule?practiceId=07b3f8ec-d473-40e4-bbfd-5a2078c4ba3b&specialtyIds=fc68f27e-b693-4c89-b94c-424432234ca3&apptReasonId=768097ee-7033-4f55-baa3-259a82ef1008&preselectedLocationIds=70187524-524e-424c-83b2-23e7b05bcbc6 to check your eligibility for a vaccine through the county’s SFO site.
Visit riteaid.com/pharmacy/covid-qualifier?utm_source=state&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=Covid19&utm_content=Covid19scheduler_CA_2_12_21 to check your eligibility for a vaccine through Rite Aid. Call (844) 987-6115 for vaccination information through Sutter Health and (866) 454-8855 for assistance through Kaiser Permanente. San Mateo County phone support can be reached at (650) 263-1867.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106