As COVID-19 vaccine eligibility continues to expand over the next two weeks eventually to include all residents ages 16 and older, San Mateo County officials warn that without an increase in doses from the state many residents eager to get vaccinated will still be left waiting.
“We’re going to need more doses to really be effective at this,” County Manager Mike Callagy said during a press briefing Wednesday. “It can be open but will they get it remains a mystery because all it’s going to do is create more frustration if we have several hundred thousands more people who are eligible without the doses.”
Starting Wednesday, residents ages 50 and older will be eligible for vaccination. By April 15, vaccine eligibility will be expanded to all of the county’s more than 642,000 residents ages 16 and older.
Expanding eligibility groups could be a signal larger shipments will begin arriving in the coming weeks, Callagy said, but officials have routinely called on residents to be patient when seeking an appointment given vaccine supply constraints.
Deputy Chief of Health Srija Srinivasan noted during the press briefing that state changes in eligibility have not been linked to a change in supply. Shipments into the county have consistently ranged between 18,000 and 22,000 doses with 20,930 having been received this week. A total of 278,878 vaccinations have been given out in the county, with 171,116 completed vaccination series for a total of 43.4% of the population over 16.
“Everyone in California who’s 16 and older will be eligible come April 15 but it’s always as supply allows,” Srinivasan said. “For any local community … we hope to reduce the frustration of folks becoming eligible but not being able to find a pathway.”
Early on, the county put energy behind large mass vaccination events at the San Mateo County Event Center and San Francisco International Airport while planning to do more smaller scale local clinics.
But a state program to direct 40% of doses to the most underserved communities, none of which is in San Mateo County, stalled the county’s efforts. Officials responded by pausing mass vaccination events and began distributing its doses to clinics in hard-hit areas.
Regular clinics are now being held in Daly City, South San Francisco, East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks, Belle Haven and along the coast. Doses have also been offered to all staff and residents of homeless shelters in the county and a street team is visiting unsheltered residents living in the streets.
The strategy will continue until supply increases, however, the county will host one mass vaccination clinic next week, Callagy said. He noted officials are prepared to quickly scale up to offer both large and small paths when possible.
San Mateo County will also receive $750,000 as part of a $7.6 million deal between nine Bay Area counties and the state for being left out of the equity program.
Callagy said the funds will be used to partner with additional community-based organizations to assist in the vaccine rollout. Appreciative of the financial support, he noted the dollars do not make up for having been left out of the program.
“The money is welcomed, absolutely,” Callagy said. “Quite frankly, the doses are more important than the money right now.”
Although the county has been constrained in its vaccine rollout it’s led the Bay Area in reopening businesses. San Mateo County was first to enter the orange tier, signaling a moderate risk of spreading the virus and is currently meeting most criteria to enter the least restrictive yellow tier.
With entry into the yellow tier looming, Callagy shared confidence in continuing through the reopening plans despite the county’s vaccine rollout remaining stalled. In a statement he applauded residents for the progress the county has made by following safety guidelines which he expressed hope for leading to an economic recovery.
“We have been operating under the state’s framework for many months and continue to believe that it balances the many considerations of safely reopening,” Callagy said in a statement. “We will continue to advocate for sufficient vaccine supply so that we can further protect every eligible resident.”
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