As children become the focus of San Mateo County’s vaccine rollout and COVID-19 cases begin to tick up amid cooler weather, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo held a town hall with the nation’s top health official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to ask him questions posed by residents about vaccine safety and changing health conditions.
Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, largely shared Fauci’s overall message, which was to encourage the general public to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to practice other safety measures like masking indoors whenever possible.
“We live in a community. We’re not living in a vacuum,” Fauci said. “You want to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Heading into cooler winter months traditionally characterized by large indoor gatherings, Fauci said the nation is at a crossroads. It could either avoid another holiday surge as being experienced in parts of Europe by getting vaccinated or communities can access vaccines to prevent widespread outbreaks before gathering.
“That depends entirely on what we do. It is within our grasp to prevent that from happening,” Fauci said, sharing the same message about the potential to reach herd immunity.
Along the West Coast, COVID-19 infections largely still from the delta variant have already begun to increase. The trend has been seen in San Mateo County too, causing the county to fluctuate in and out of the yellow tier, indicating a moderate risk of spread, set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Remaining in the yellow tier is one of three criteria the county needs to meet before it can see a regional indoor mask mandate lifted though it’s unlikely masking rules will be loosened ahead of the holidays.
“We still are keeping a close eye on things because it’s very possible we could be heading in either direction,” Chief of Health Louise Rogers said about remaining in the yellow tier during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
Responding to questions from the public, Fauci said masking for those who are still unvaccinated is vital in preventing the spread of the virus, especially when gathering indoors during the holidays. He also recommended celebrations be held outdoors when the weather allows.
But ultimately, Fauci, as have local health officials, argued that getting as many people vaccinated as possible is the best layer of protection for communities ahead of the holidays.
Addressing questions on the safety of the vaccines, Fauci backed clinical trials that have shown the treatments to be highly effective and safe now for those ages 5 and older. He encouraged boosters for those who are eligible and recommended parents get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.
But Fauci also called for the public to be patient with loved ones who are still unvaccinated, noting many still have questions that have gone unanswered or have been fed misinformation. Rather than become argumentative, he suggested people be trusted messengers who relay factual information and their sources.
“When you get a disease that’s really serious and you have a spectacularly effective tool, it is a shame if you don’t maximally utilize that tool,” Fauci said. “If you’re out there and you’re unvaccinated, please get vaccinated.”
The nation’s overall vaccination rate is 58%, leaving 62 million Americans without protection, not accounting for the 28 million children who just became eligible, Fauci said.
In San Mateo County, the overall vaccination rate is just greater than 73% as of Nov. 3, though 92% of the county’s population over 16 is vaccinated. The county’s vaccine data has not been updated to reflect the number of children below the age of 12 who have been vaccinated after receiving the green light to do so last week. Rogers said those figures should be updated sometime this week.
About 350 children were vaccinated at the San Mateo County Event Center during the first pediatric clinic held by the county, Dr. Anand Chabra, medical director of Family Health Services during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Rogers described Saturday’s event as “very successful” and “celebratory” at times. To make the walk-through clinic more kid-friendly, county staff decorated the site with bright themes and provided families with TVs and games as entertainment while waiting before and after getting their vaccine.
Pediatric clinics will be held weekly from Wednesday to Saturday and regional school-based clinics hosted in partnership with the San Mateo County Office of Education will begin next week, Chabra said.
Large medical providers have begun opening appointments for pediatric doses as demand grows, Rogers said. About 20 pharmacies in the county are also providing pediatric doses.
“It was just very exciting to see the great enthusiasm and response, the high interest in vaccination for children ages 5 to 11 when they became eligible,” Rogers said.
Visit the County Health website at smchealth.org/covid-19-vaccination-program-overview to learn more about vaccine clinic appointments.
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