San Mateo County officials eager to speed up the county’s vaccination efforts stood up a drive-thru inoculation site over the weekend with the goal of vaccinating 10,000 health care workers and congregate care facility residents and staff. 

The site at the San Mateo County Event Center launched Monday, welcoming up to 960 individuals by invitation only, said Dr. Anand Chabra, the section chief of COVID-19 Mass Vaccination and medical director of Family Health Services. From Tuesday to Friday, clinics which are closed to the public, will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. aiming to vaccinate 1,920 people per day. 

“[Monday] begins the largest mass vaccination effort in this county’s history and is a huge step in ending COVID,” David Canepa, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, said in a press release. 

Through professional channels, private care physicians, lab and dental workers and other medical staffers who risk contact with COVID-19 positive patients were contacted to begin scheduling vaccination appointments. Those participating in the clinics will receive vaccine doses invented by the biotech company Moderna which requires a second dose be administered 28 days after the first.  

Chabra said most of the remaining 22,300 doses allotted to the county from both Moderna and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer are expected to be administered by the end of this week. The county is expecting an additional shipment of roughly 6,000 doses, said Deputy Chief of Health Srija Srinivasan during a press briefing Wednesday, Jan. 6.

Multi-county medical facilities like Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health have received direct vaccine shipments to treat their own staff, though some employees may receive vaccination from the county if they are unable to access through their employer. 

“While we’re pleased with the progress big health care systems made to try to vaccinate some of this population, we’re trying to jump-start this week to get a bunch of people vaccinated,” said Chabra, noting the county is “focused on ensuring equity” in vaccine distribution for marginalized communities. 

Roughly 15,000 San Mateo County residents have been vaccinated of the 800,000 who call it home, said Chabra. The figure includes those who have received the vaccine from out-of-county employers and excludes those who live outside of San Mateo County but received a vaccine here. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, during a press conference Monday, said the state is working on getting a million doses administered by this weekend. As of Sunday, just more than 783,000 doses of the 2,466,125 shipped to California have been administered. 

The vaccination push comes as many regions have experienced dwindling available and staffed ICU beds, including in the Bay Area where the regional ICU capacity fell to 0.7% over the weekend. Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services Agency, shared subtle optimism for recent infection trends during the press conference, saying the post-holiday surge has been lower than expected while noting numbers can drastically change in the coming week. 

In San Mateo County, seven regular and 88 surge ICU beds are available as 182 individuals seek hospital treatment for COVID-related illnesses. Of those being hospitalized, 35 are receiving intensive care. Nearly 29,000 county residents have tested positive for the infectious respiratory disease which has claimed 255 lives locally since the start of the pandemic. 

In the coming weeks, the county could begin vaccinating those who fall into the state determined Phase 1B, Tier 1, depending on the supply of doses the county receives, said Chabra. Multicounty entities will independently determine when to move into the next phase depending on the availability of doses, he said. 

Phase 1B, Tier 1 prioritizes vaccinating those ages 75 and older and people at risk of workplace exposure in the education, child care, emergency services and food and agriculture sectors, according to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine website. 

Acknowledging the drive-thru model could theoretically be adapted to vaccinate other groups, Chabra said the county could not commit to performing regular mass vaccination sites “partly because of the vaccine supply issue and the person power issue.” 

Some providers are considering hosting large vaccination events, he added, suggesting residents contact their primary care physician for more information on accessing a vaccine. Aiming to address widespread concern around vaccine access, the county will host a virtual information event at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13. The event will be streamed live online on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.  

Canepa said he hopes 2021 will see the end of COVID-19 with a vaccine and that the economy will return.

“This fills me with optimism and gives me a sense that if we work together with transparency and compassion, we indeed will return to normal,” said Canepa. “This is the best news I’ve heard in a long time and shows that the dark days of winter will be over soon.” 

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