Local health officials try to clear up confusion over vaccine distribution process

By Katherine Minkiewicz, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, January 30, 2021

Nearly 85% of those who made appointments at the recently-opened Rohnert Park OptumServe COVID-19 clinic for folks over 75-years-old were under the age of 75, leading to the cancellation of many appointments and causing confusion in a time where folks are anxious to get vaccinated.

“We recognize that there was some confusion about the sign-ups at our newest vaccine clinic, which opened on Wednesday at the Rohnert Park Community Center,” said Dr. Urmila Shende, the county’s COVID-19 vaccine officer.

“This clinic is managed by OptumServe and is one of just four clinics around the state that has been set up as part of a pilot project. We made clear from the beginning when this clinic was first announced on Monday that it was intended for a very specific group of people and that was for people over the age of 75 who had disabilities, who had also had less access to technology and also did not have medical homes, and are from underrepresented parts of our population. Because OptumServe’s scheduling application does not provide screening capabilities that we needed to ensure that these appointments went to those within the age group, we announced that the appointments were made by invitation only. As a result, we reached out by phone to our adult and aging division and our health equity program to work with affiliated senior organizations in the community to target this very vulnerable population.”

Through this outreach method, they were able to schedule more than 550 appointments for this vulnerable group.

“Unfortunately, the link for the sign-ups ended up being circulated in an email and was eventually posted on social media. As a result, there was a rush to claim these appointments, which quickly filled up through the third and fourth week in February and during the process we discovered that 85% of the appointments over the next three to four weeks were scheduled by people who are not in our intended vulnerable population,” Shende said

She said this is not to say that people under 75 are not vulnerable as well. She said the county is focusing on those 75 and older, and those who are 75 and older who have disabilities and or no access to technology.

Shende said the county worked with OptumServe to notify the individuals who were under 75 and booked an appointment with the Rohnert Park site, that their appointments were canceled.

“We did this to preserve those appointments and to save these individuals the trip of coming to the clinic,” Shende said.

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins and the county’s COVID-19 vaccine officer Dr. Urmila Shende.

She said once the county completes vaccinating the 75 and older population, they’ll prioritize other seniors and those who tried to make appointments at the Rohnert Park clinic.

“We hope to have a concerted effort to reach those over 75 and very soon those over 65 will have access as well. We are asking for patience,” Shende said.

Sonoma County healthcare partners have now administered just shy of 40,000 doses of the COVID-19.

“We know that everybody is eager to get a vaccine either for themself, a friend or a family member. We understand and we understand how anxious this moment is, everybody is worried, everybody wants that vaccine, but the fact is, right now, there just aren’t enough vaccines to go around in the county to meet demand,” said Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins.

Hopkins reiterated that now that they’ve nearly completed the vaccines for phase 1A of the vaccine distribution the county is going to focus on getting vaccines to the county’s most vulnerable senior residents, and for now that means folks 75 and older.

“Why are we focused on this group while some counties are choosing to vaccinate those ages 65 and above? There are several reasons. Number one, unlike many counties a significant amount of Sonoma County’s population is actually made up of senior citizens,” Hopkins said.

Overall the county has 102,000 people who are over the age of 65, about 25% of the county’s adult population.

“Given the small number of doses that the country receives each week, it’s just not possible to vaccinate such a large group all at once,” Hopkins said. “Given that we are focusing on instead the 37,000 residents in the county who are age 75 and above. The other reason that we’re focusing on this population is because they represent those who are most vulnerable to COVID. Roughly two-thirds of all of the members of our community who have died of COVID during this pandemic have been residents who are 75 and older. We need to help them, and we need to get them the vaccines first. That is why we’re asking for your patience as we set aside the first vaccine appointments for those in this group.”

Those 75 and older can make an appointment at myoptumserve.com/covid19.

Other vaccine clinics that are open in the county intended for specifically targeted groups include:

  • The public health lab with AMR for first responders and law enforcement
  • Grace Pavillion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds/Sonoma County Medical Association Clinic for health care providers in tier 2 and 3 under Phase 1A
  • Sonoma County Fairgrounds Safeway Clinic for in-home support services workers
  • The Sonoma County Administration building clinical health appraisals for public health field workers
  • Roseland Library, intermittent consulting clinic for community health promoters

The fitness center at the Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma campus and the Huerta Gym in Windsor will be set up soon in order to target those who are 75 years and older. The sites will be set up for vaccinating those 75 and older only.

She said the Sonoma County Office of Education clinic for teachers at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park has been postponed until the county can reach all of the county’s over 75 years old population

“Again, once we get through 75 and older, we will soon be able to move into these other groups,” Shende said.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com