SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Two Santa Clara County supervisors on Monday proposed an emergency ordinance that would require every hospital and clinic in the county to produce a written plan and timeline for vaccine distribution.
COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Santa Clara County has not gone as smoothly as some county officials have hoped, with less than half of the county’s allotted vaccines being administered.
Many residents are uncertain on when, where and how they can get it.
The new ordinance presented by board president Cindy Chavez and Supervisor Joe Simitian would hopefully increase the speed of the vaccine’s distribution.
“We need speed, we need clarity, and we need transparency,” Chavez said. “And on top of that we need a very rigorous communication framework so that everyone knows when to expect it’s their turn [for the vaccine].”
Santa Clara County has been struggling during the current surge in COVID-19 cases, with coronavirus deaths mounting as the hospitals in the South Bay hit ICU capacity.
On Sunday, Santa Clara County health officials announced an additional 36 deaths but warned the number of fatalities could even be higher.
“Due to the high volume of deaths under investigation and delays in reporting to the county, deaths may be temporarily undercounted,” officials warned in bright red letters on the Santa Clara County COVID dashboard page.
Simitian said they are applying lessons learned from the early days of the pandemic, when there was debate about who would administer and pay for testing.
“We lost precious months, important months when we had the back and forth with the major providers about testing. We can’t afford to do that again. The cost in human life and to our economy is just too great,” said Simitian.
Currently, vaccine distribution is very fragmented, which makes it hard to know where gaps are and to accurately anticipate a vaccine distribution timeline.
Private or non-profit health care systems like Stanford Health Care or El Camino Health get their vaccines through the county but oversee distribution themselves.
Multi-county entities, like Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health, which insure half of the county’s population, get their own vaccine batches shipped from the state and govern themselves in distribution.
Federal agencies like Veteran Affairs or Indian Health Centers have their own vaccine plans for their respective community.
And a federal program between CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens heads up vaccine distribution for residents and staff in long-term care facilities.
“Part of the reason that Supervisor Simitian and I are requesting this transparency is that the state is communicating directly with the entities like Sutter and Kaiser,” Chavez said. “The U.S. federal government’s communicating directly with the VA hospitals, but that doesn’t tell us how far or how fast we’re moving within the county.”
As of Friday, only 47,000 people had received vaccines from the county’s 110,000 total vaccines, according to the county’s Public Health Department. The 47,000 people does not include shots given at different federal-run entities.
Simitian believed one of the reasons for the lag is because priority groups may be too narrow.
“Taking too fine a slice in looking at Phase 1A, Tier one before we get to the next tier means that we are not moving the vaccine out as quickly as we can to as many people as we can,” Simitian said.
Data collection would help identify if that is one of the reasons for the lag, he noted.
But many of the other entities are not obligated to share data with the county and the supervisors are banking on the shared goal to effectively distribute the vaccine to encourage data sharing.
The emergency ordinance will be discussed during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. It is not the end-all solution, Simitian said, but rather a step in the right direction.
“Only if we know what’s being done can we know what isn’t being done. Data is the tool that we use to make sure we get to everyone in the county,” Simitian said. “If you take just a moment to look at the numbers, we can’t afford to lose a month; we can’t afford to lose a week. We cannot afford to lose a single day.”
Last year, after repeated warnings from the health department, healthcare providers were threatened with fines for lagging behind and not providing adequate testing to their members. Last week, the county fined Kaiser Permanente $43,000 for failing to report on time, a COVID-19 outbreak in the emergency department at the south San Jose facility.
When asked if the county has lost some faith in the area’s providers, Simitian replied, “I think I’ll borrow an old phrase, trust but verify. And part of that is by reaching out to folks in the healthcare industry to say, ‘Are you on board, or can we count on your participation? Will you do your share?’ So I’m cautiously optimistic, but optimism alone isn’t going to be enough. We need to make sure that we have both a clear plan and the accountability that should go with a clear plan.”
Sutter Health released a statement about the proposed reporting requirement:
“Sutter Health is following a staged approach to vaccine distribution. In accordance with guidance from with federal, state and local public health officials we offered vaccine first to healthcare workers across our network.
This week, Sutter Health will begin vaccine rollout to patients, starting with existing patients age 75 and older and other healthcare workers in our communities. We will continue to follow California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and CDC guidelines as we work through the tiered system. Vaccine appointments will be available very soon through Sutter’s online patient portal.
Information is available on our website and a dedicated call center will further support our vaccine rollout effort to patients.”
Kaiser Permanente also released a statement:
“Kaiser Permanente is committed to the fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible based on vaccine allocations we receive. We are following prioritization guidelines from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Centers for Disease Control. Kaiser Permanente San Jose and Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara medical centers are currently working on their vaccination plans that will be provided to the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health. This will include our plans for vaccinating eligible individuals per the State of California guidelines.”
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