County will begin vaccinating people age 65 and up

By Zoë Strickland, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, February 20, 2021

Essential food workers will be eligible for vaccinations starting Monday

As local COVID-19 case rates continue to decline, Sonoma County is opening up its vaccine eligibility a bit wider, making vaccines eligible to people age 65 and up and, starting Monday, making them available to food workers.

As of Feb. 18, the county has administered over 100,000 vaccines and has provided at least one dose of the vaccine to 85,889 residents.

“When you break this number down on an individual basis, it actually means that more than one in every five residents over the age of 16 has now received at least one dose here in Sonoma County,” said Lynda Hopkins, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

According to Hopkins, at least 62% of county residents age 75 and over and 46% of residents age 70 to 74 have received at least one vaccine dose.

“This has been a true community-wide effort, and we are very thankful for the partnership of so many of our local health care providers to reach this milestone,” Hopkins said in a statement. “We still have a long way to go, but thanks to the progress and collaboration we are achieving at the local level, it’s clear that we are on the right track. The issue going forward will be supply. Thanks to all of these community efforts, we have a great system in place, but we have the ability to do three times more vaccinations than we are doing now. We just need more vaccines.”

While state vaccine guidelines allowed people age 65 and up to get vaccines, Sonoma County health officials held back on vaccinating county residents between the age of 65 and 70 until it was able to make headway with administering vaccines to those age 75 and up — a demographic that makes up 10% of the county, while also accounting for two-thirds of the deaths since the pandemic began.

The county began offering vaccines to people age 70 and above on Feb. 8, and will now switch to making vaccines available to people 65 and above.

“We now believe we are at a point where we can open vaccinations up to the wider group of 65 and older, but I want to make clear that this is a very large group so getting an appointment is going to be a challenge for a while. Please be patient,” said Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase in a statement. “Meanwhile, we understand and support the decision by some health care providers to continue prioritizing those 75 and older for now. These are residents who are most at risk of the worst outcomes of the virus, and we also are going to continue our efforts to reach out to our oldest residents and help them to get appointments.”

County health officials also announced that essential food workers, including food manufacturing, grocery store and restaurant workers, also will be eligible for vaccinations starting on Feb. 22.

The change in prioritization will bring Sonoma County in alignment with California Department of Public Health guidelines for COVID-19 vaccination distribution for those in Phase 1b, Tier 1 of the state’s vaccine distribution plan.

“We want to be clear, though — while we open this up to that larger group, the availability of appointments is still going to be limited by the supply of vaccines that we receive,” said District 3 Supervisor Chris Coursey. “Our supply is meager compared to the demands that we face. Just because you’re eligible, doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to get an appointment right away.”

While COVID cases locally continue to decline, Mase said that Sonoma County is no longer seeing the steep drop in cases that it saw once the spike from the holidays subsided.

“Our adjusted case rate has leveled out around 14 new cases per day per 100,00 residents — that’s still double the seven new cases per 100,000 per day that we need to move into the less restrictive red tier,” Mase said.

The county’s testing positivity rate of 3.8% has the county in the orange tier of that metric and its testing rate for the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index is at 5.4%, moving it to the red tier.

“If that number comes down just a little bit more by 0.2% to 5.2%, that then puts us in the orange tier in both testing positivity metrics the state uses to determine tier status. If the numbers stay that way for two consecutive weeks, then we could end up moving to the less restrictive red tier and be able to open up new parts of our economy for the first time since August,” Mase said.

Though case rates are down, Mase emphasized that people should still continue to get tested, as well as continue practicing social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing.

Where to get a vaccine

Eligible individuals who are insured are encouraged to first seek a vaccination appointment through their primary health care provider. Those who do not have that option are encouraged to go to one of the following centers based on age group and/or type of employment as an essential worker:

For those age 65 and above, appointments will be available at the following clinics:

  • Rohnert Park Community Center, in partnership with OptumServe, Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Schedule an appointment at: myoptumserve.com/covid19 or call 877-218-0381
  • Any of 11 Safeway pharmacies in Sonoma County. Appointments are required at specific stores. Each pharmacy will have a capacity to do up to 20. Vaccinations will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day Monday through Friday. For a complete list of all Safeway stores, go to: socoemergency.org/vaccine
  • Sonoma County Fairgrounds Grace Pavilion, in partnership with Safeway, schedule an appointment at: mhealthsystem.com/sonomacountypublichealth
  • Sonoma Valley High School, in partnership with Sonoma Valley Hospital, schedule an appointment at: www.sonomavalleyhospital.org/svhp/
  • For information about other clinics in Sonoma County, go to socoemergency.org/vaccine

West county vaccination clinics in Sebastopol and Guerneville are temporarily closed to individual appointments. According to a recent post on their website, “For the immediate future, vaccination appointments will only be made through direct outreach from West County Health Center staff, primary care medical offices in the west Sonoma County, and partner organizations employing essential workers in the eligibility tiers listed below. We will reassess this method as we get more information about the California Department of Public Health transition to Blue Shield as the administrator of vaccine distribution starting March 7th and as we get more information about the direct shipments from the Federal Government to Community Health Centers in the near future.” (From https://www.wchealth.org/news/covid-19-vaccine/)

In addition, teachers and child care workers are being vaccinated by invitation at a clinic through the Sonoma County Office of Education. Agriculture workers are being vaccinated at various clinics through their employers.

  • Medical or non-medical volunteers seeking to help at a vaccination clinic can find more information about volunteering at SoCoEmergency.org/VaccineVolunteers.
  • Licensed medical professionals will be asked to sign up to volunteer through California’s Disaster Healthcare Volunteers. Non-medical volunteers are managed by the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership, and the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County.

For more information including the latest vaccine numbers, who’s eligible for a vaccine and how to receive a vaccine, community members are encouraged to visit SoCoEmergency.org/vaccine, or call 2-1-1.

This article was produced by SoCoNews. See more news at soconews.org