COVID-19 vaccine at Sutter

Laura Zhang and Brittany Lemings from Sutter Tracy Community Hospital pharmacy department examining the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine allotment that arrived at the hospital in December.

The answer to if Tracy residents will receive a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the near future is “maybe.” As it stands right now, San Joaquin County is looking to conduct a mass vaccination event in Tracy as soon as this weekend or early next week, but nothing has been confirmed just yet.

San Joaquin County Public Health Services feels confident in its preparations for distributing COVID-19 vaccines throughout the county. However, according to Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park, the current issues the county faces when it comes to scheduling vaccination events and allocating vaccines to medical facilities are supply shortages in the Central Valley and strict guidelines dictated by the state. Park also mentioned additional struggles with the state transitioning distribution powers to the private insurance company BlueShield and conflicts with the state’s My Turn app.

Currently the county has about 10,500 vaccines on-hand to distribute and is awaiting more from the state. Vaccine distribution was delayed nationwide last week due to severe weather in the southern states of the country.

“We have to watch that number very carefully. For example, with Pfizer there's about 5000 (doses). We know that we've just given 10,000 to the Office of Education. And in three weeks, they're going to need 10,000 more – possibly more than that – if they end up doing more like 11,000 or 12,000 people. And so if it turns out to be 10-11-12,000, we need to have that same amount in exactly 3 weeks,” said Park. Park said the county receives an average of 2,000 to-3,000 of first and second separate doses of each vaccine per week, so she takes that into account when planning vaccination events for first-time doses.

According to San Joaquin County’s data dashboard, about 104,771 total vaccination dosages have been administered in San Joaquin County as of Wednesday. The dashboard further breaks down the numbers to show that 75,492 of those are first-time doses, while the remaining 29,279 account for second-time doses administered to residents. Park noted that these numbers could be higher since the dashboard doesn’t display the number of vaccinations administered by organizations that received their supply directly from state and federal programs.

“So we're getting to maybe about a 12 percentage rate for vaccination throughout the county,” Park said.

Tracy residents have received just over 13,000 collective doses of the vaccine to date.

District 5 County Supervisor Robert Rickman, who represents cities in the southern part of San Joaquin County, asked if more mass vaccination clinics were on the horizon for places other than Stockton, based on the information that Park and the Office of Emergency Services presented to the board.

Park explained that the original plan for the county was to plan first-dose mass vaccination events throughout the county based on the number of shipments of vaccines allocated for that purpose as time went on.

“Then we got word that we should probably not do any more first-dose events because BlueShield was taking over, and we didn't know for sure if they would even do the second doses for people once they took over,” she said. “It's been very confusing. BlueShield was supposed to transition the first wave of counties in this week and there's been a delay. So that is why I say that whatever I keep getting if the state's going to keep giving it to me. I'm just going to keep planning.”

Another obstacle that the county faces is the state’s My Turn app, which will now be the primary source for residents to check both their vaccination eligibility and dates for vaccination events. Originally San Joaquin County Public Health Services developed its own interest form for residents so that they could be contacted and make appointment reservations when it was their turn to receive a vaccine. However, the link for this form now redirects to the My Turn app, a similar service now mandated statewide to streamline the vaccination process.

With this new system in place, San Joaquin County would no longer have any say in how vaccines are allocated and distributed.

“They (BlueShield) are going to have the state continue to allocate vaccines to providers, but skipping us as the middleman, and having everyone on-board with the same system,” said Park. “So My CA Vax, My Turn – everything's been named ‘my, my, my’ to keep it consistent. Everybody who's a provider has to enroll in My CA Vax. Anybody who's going to be vaccinated has to be on My Turn. People who want a vaccine have to look on My Turn.”

The board of supervisors viewed this news, and the fact that most of the county’s businesses, schools and sports are still on lockdown or restrictions, as “totalitarian.”

“It sounds like a tremendous bureaucratic loss of local control and very complicated. I can't imagine the manpower or the system that is required to address each county in each department and each need and each allocation and each identified local area of concern or partnership,” said Supervisor Chair Tom Patti, who represents District 3 of San Joaquin County. “How do we opt out of this and maintain some local control.”

Park let the board know that there is no choice to opt out of either the agreement with BlueShield or being included in the My Turn app.

In response, the board will be meeting with County Counselor J. Mark Myles in closed session for its March 9 meeting to discuss potential litigation to question the state’s authority. The county has already put in a Public Records Request in with California’s Department of Public Health to ask for specific scientific data and statistics that support the need for the state’s strict control during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It's disturbing. And, you know, we've written the governor and legislators multiple times. And our voices aren't being heard at the state level. We can’t sit up here and hit our fists against this dais constantly,” said Rickman. “But unless we act, I mean through litigation or whatever it may be, we have a duty to protect our residents. It's arbitrary. There's no data and science that we have seen behind it, and it's wrong, and we have to keep continuing to push forward and fight for our residents, our restaurants, small business owners and so on.”

N Contact Brianna Guillory at bguillory@tracypress.com or 209-830-4229.

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