The mass vaccination site in downtown Watsonville for most of March will solely administer second doses of the Covid-19 vaccines, slowing a distribution chain that has at times moved at a sporadic pace because of limited supply.
Since opening on Feb. 6, the site at the old Watsonville City Hall has administered roughly 3,800 doses to county residents. Many of those shots have gone to people living in hard-hit Watsonville, as the County Health Services Agency prioritized residents age 65 and older living in the 95019, 95076 and 95077 zip codes—it also recently opened up the center for essential workers.
But starting Thursday, those 3,800 people will return to receive their second shot, and older adults and essential workers included in Phase 1B of the county’s vaccination plan will have to look elsewhere for their first dose if they want to receive it within the next few weeks.
County spokesman Jason Hoppin said the site will again begin taking new appointments when it completes its registry system switch to the online state-run My Turn system, which is already in use in various counties and has been used successfully by roughly half a million Californians searching for a vaccination.
My Turn is available in eight languages, and for those without internet access appointments can be made by calling 833-422-4255. The hotline is available in English and Spanish, with third party translators available in more than 250 additional languages.
Another 1.6 million Californians have already signed up for a My Turn notification, and this week, according to the California Department of Public Health, My Turn will begin piloting the use of single-use codes, allowing community-based organizations, navigators or others to sign up members of disproportionately affected or other prioritized communities. This feature also minimizes the unauthorized sharing of codes, an issue reported in large cities across the state over the last few weeks.
Until then, Hoppin said individuals 65 and older in search of a vaccine that are not patients of the three local healthcare giants—Dignity-Dominican, Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente—can still call the Santa Cruz Community Health Center to set up an appointment. In Watsonville, Rite Aid on Freedom Boulevard is also taking appointments online, although there was scarce availability on Monday. Salud Para La Gente and the county’s clinics in Watsonville and Santa Cruz were also offering vaccinations to their patients.
It is more likely, Hoppin said, that essential workers included in Phase 1B—education, childcare, food and agriculture, fire, law enforcement and emergency services—will receive their vaccines in planned large-scale clinics coming later this month made possible by a partnership between the county and Sutter. Employers interested in vaccinations are asked to fill out the Covid-19 Vaccine Interest Survey at bit.ly/2NnFAUA.
The good news? County health officials at a Feb. 25 press conference said that about 70% of teachers in the county have received their first vaccine dose. In addition, about 63% of the county’s residents aged 65 and above have received their first dose, and 17% have received both doses.
The recent approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has, too, provided another tool for the county to continue its vaccination efforts. Hoppin said the county is expected to receive an unknown number of doses from that pharmaceutical giant this week—Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday said the state is expected to receive about 380,000 doses—on top of 1,170 doses from Pfizer and 2,400 from Moderna.
Because of its single-shot administration, Hoppin said, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a “game changer.”
“Just like Pfizer and Moderna, the initial rollout of that will be slow, but that will eventually increase our supplies by 50% on an ongoing basis,” he said.
Hoppin also said the state has told the county that there will be a “resolution” to vaccine shortage by mid-March.
That would align with the CPDH’s planned implementation of the statewide distribution system from Blue Shield. In a press release, CDPH said the California health plan provider starting today would begin its three-wave “onboarding system,” starting with large counties such as Fresno, Imperial and Kings. Santa Cruz County is in the third wave, and is expected to be integrated into the system sometime after March 7.
By then, CDPH said, the state will be close to its expected vaccine distribution goal of 3 million doses per week, up from its current pace of 1.4 million doses per week. It hopes to administer 4 million doses per week by the end of April.
Under the plan, Blue Shield would make allocation recommendations—based on criteria set by the state—to state officials for doses. The state will make final allocation decisions, continuing to use the existing split which prioritizes 70% of doses for those 65 and older and the other 30% in the educational and childcare, emergency services and food and agriculture sectors. This allocation is for first doses only, with second doses being sent to the provider who administered the first vaccination dose.
“The enhanced network will build on the state’s existing capacity and vaccination processes that are working well, while enhancing state oversight of the vaccine supply and accountability for all vaccine doses to ensure equitable access to vaccines for communities disproportionately affected by Covid-19,” said Paul Markovich, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California, in a press release. “The state will continue to have responsibility for allocating the vaccine to ensure Californians get the protection they need from Covid-19, and we are working diligently in support of those efforts.”