SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Health officials in the South Bay on Tuesday said they will have to work much faster to meet the state’s August 1st deadline of vaccinating most residents.
Santa Clara County public health officials warn they are facing two interconnected challenges that could imperil their efforts to quickly distribute a potentially lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine: distribution capacity and supply uncertainty.
“We really need to have a major focus on vaccinating the people who are at highest risk,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib. “That will make the biggest impact on preventing serious illness and death in out community.”
Public health officials acknowledged in a Tuesday update provided to county supervisors that the rollout of the vaccine has been far slower than they anticipated or hoped. So far, roughly 52,000 people have received their initial dose of the vaccine — fewer than 2,000 a day on average.
The Public Health Department estimates on average 13,000 people would need to be vaccinated per day non-stop for the next seven months to reach the state’s goal of vaccinating everyone older than 16 years old by August 1.
“We, the county health system, have been working vigorously on expanding our capacity,” Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jeff Smith told supervisors.
The county has opened seven clinics and vaccination sites to ramp up its capacity to administer shots.
The news came as officials confirmed the dire news that Santa Clara County morgues are almost at full capacity.
Three local morgues can no longer store bodies as of Tuesday, and four others are nearly full, officials said.
To address the shortage of space, the county has brought in three refrigerated trailers that can hold up to 60 bodies. Two trailers are located at the county medical examiner’s office and the other is at Bay Area Mortuary Services in San Jose.
Citing the need for, “fast, efficient and equitable vaccine distribution” the San Francisco 49ers offered Levi’s Stadium as a possible mass vaccination site.
But even as health officials speed vaccination efforts, they say they are hampered by the uncertainty of the supply of the vaccine.
“Right now, we don’t have enough in our freezers to last one week, let alone be able to do 35,000 a week,” said Dr. Smith.
On Monday, Santa Clara County supervisors proposed an emergency ordinance that would require every hospital and clinic in the county to produce a written plan and timeline for vaccine distribution.
The new ordinance presented by board president Cindy Chavez and Supervisor Joe Simitian would hopefully increase the speed of the vaccine’s distribution.
Officials also warned about misinformation during the meeting Tuesday afternoon.
They said some South Bay residents got text messages and emails with offers to receive vaccinations early. Those who responded and showed up at vaccination sites to receive their first were ultimately turned away because they were not healthcare workers or people living in nursing homes. Those are the only people currently getting vaccinated.
To access more vaccine information for Santa Clara County, people can visit sccfreevax.org.