MONTEREY COUNTY — Monterey County officials continue to prioritize the elderly with Covid-19 vaccinations as allocations of doses remain low.
“The amount of vaccine that comes to Monterey County from the state has not increased,” said County Supervisor Mary Adams during a press briefing Feb. 10. “Monterey County is moving forward with vaccinations of residents aged 75-plus, while continuing with the first-line healthcare workers.”
While other counties and the state at large prioritize those 65 years and older, Adams said the lack of vaccines means they needed to be saved for the most at-risk while supplies and vaccination openings remain limited.
“Adults over the age of 75 are prioritized over the age of 65 because the risk of Covid complications increases exponentially with age,” Adams said. “People 75 and older have an eight to 13 times higher risk of being hospitalized and a more than 200 times greater chance of dying from Covid. So until the federal and state governments are able to distribute additional vaccine allocations, the higher risk group needs to be prioritized if we want to get back to a more normal way of life.”
Monterey County has a population of 38,660 adults over the age of 75 and 47,800 residents between the ages of 65 and 74.
“If we’re only getting a few thousand doses a week, it’s going to take months to vaccinate this group,” Adams said. “That’s why we’re advocating so strongly at the state level to revisit the vaccination allocation plan.”
The board of supervisors has in previous weeks sent a letter to the legislature and governor urging for increased vaccine allocation. The state itself receives 450,000 doses per week.
Complicating matters is the state splits doses between 61 health jurisdictions, like Monterey County Health Department and nine multi-county entities. Such places as Santa Cruz County have three multi-state entities, which is why they’re able to vaccinate so many more people, Adams explained.
Further causing confusion is the multi-county entities will accept appointments from Monterey County residents, even if the entity location is in another county. The state’s complications by continually changing standards and making surprise announcements of entities, such as CVS getting vaccines, compounds the matter more.
Earlier this month, it was announced CVS received vaccine doses to administer at its locations, but that they had chosen their Monterey and Carmel stores for the vaccines. After public pressure, including a letter from the county supervisors, CVS announced late last week that they had added a Salinas store to the vaccination plans.
County officials said they did not have information about CVS plans on locations for vaccination clinics.
The result is Monterey County residents having different companies or agencies telling them different answers on who qualifies for vaccination registration or when registration can take place.
“Please understand, I know how frustrating it is for people to go online to the local hospitals that are providing vaccines only to find appointments have already been booked,” Adams said. “With the limited supply of vaccines, there’s going to be a wait time to make appointments at these scheduled times. They’ll fill up quickly, and unless additional supplies become available, it could take four to five months to provide shots for all the Monterey County residents who are 75 and older.”
Part of the board of supervisors’ pleas to the state government include the high population of elderly and the high population of migrant farmworkers, who as essential workers providing food for the nation, are vulnerable and need protection.
Those who are 75 or older can sign up at mcvaccinate.com, which shows clinics with availability and their schedules.
Adams advised people to attempt to register first thing Monday mornings, when the schedules are likely to be entered and not yet filled. She noted queues could fill within 39 minutes, meaning one would have to check at 8 or 9 a.m. to have the best chance.
Another suggestion was to check regularly and daily for updates on clinic availability.
“For people who are unaccustomed to being on computers in the first place, this is very frustrating,” Adams said.
Vaccines for veterans
Jason Cameron, the county veterans services officer, said the VA is offering vaccines to veterans who are already receiving care from the VA. He noted for those who are prioritized, the VA team will reach out to them directly based on their risk categories to get them appointments.
“All veterans enrolled in VA healthcare should make sure their contact information is up to date,” Cameron said.
Due to Pfizer vaccine shipment limitations, the VA has not provided regular vaccination clinics at their Marina site, meaning Monterey County veterans had to travel out of county for vaccinations.
“That poses some issues for us because some veterans … have travel limitations,” Cameron said. “The highest concentration of elderly veterans is in our area. The point gets driven home on why we need that vaccine here in a way we can receive it and be able to administer it here at the Marina clinic.”
Congressman Jimmy Panetta contacted the Department of Veterans Affairs on Feb. 2 and sent them a formal letter on Feb. 3 asking for allocation of vaccines to non-hub VA clinics to increase access for veterans.
The result was a Feb. 5 announcement that 600 first-dose allocations of the Moderna vaccine were approved and would be distributed on Feb. 13 for veterans of the Central Coast at Marina’s Major General William H. Gourley VA-DoD Outpatient Clinic. The VA announced it would also provide a later corresponding allocation of the second dose.
That Feb. 13 vaccine distribution will be for veterans age 75 and older.
“Although the VA is providing veterans with allocated vaccines, many from our area had to drive long distances to get their shots,” Panetta said. “After hearing from local veterans about the potential for inaccessibility issues, we immediately contacted the VA and requested that their vaccines be distributed here on the Central Coast.” He added, “The VA is allocating a number of doses to the Gourley Clinic in Marina. This will make it much easier and safer for our veterans to get their allocated vaccines a lot closer to home.”
Veterans who wish to make an appointment for the Feb. 13 clinic may call the Palo Alto VA Medical Center at 650-496-2535. Second dose vaccines will be administered about 28 days after receiving the first dose.
On Friday, the county announced another allocation of 400 Moderna vaccine doses for the VA Gourley Clinic in Marina. Those will be administered to eligible veterans on Feb. 25, also via appointment.
For veterans not enrolled in VA care or who do not currently receive care from the VA, they can contact Cameron’s office at mvao.org or 831-647-7613 to explore options.
Adams said she is aware of how much everyone wants to get back to normal, to hug grandchildren and have friends over for dinner. She also noted the complications of vaccination information being online.
While there are plans for a telephone registration system for vaccine registration, those are not yet ready. In the meantime, Adams urged people to help those in need with registration when necessary.
“If you are unaccustomed to working on a computer and you don’t have a smartphone, see if there’s a close family member or somebody who lives nearby who can sit on a telephone and walk you through how to do it,” she said.