Santa Clara County leaders are concerned they won't have enough COVID-19 doses to continue building up their vaccination program after learning that federal officials allegedly lied about having a stockpile of second doses, County Counsel James Williams said on Friday.
The stunning revelation, which he made during a press conference in San Jose, came not from an official announcement by the government, but from news reports in the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Williams said county officials only learned about the depleted stockpile on Friday morning.
Unnamed federal officials told the news organizations that the federal stockpile had been depleted in late December and that the federal government has been removing additional doses for the second round of shots directly off the manufacturers' production lines. A booster vaccine is necessary three or four weeks after the initial dose to confer 95% immunity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and manufacturers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
The Santa Clara County Health System has administered 32,352 first doses and 6,594 second doses to eligible health care workers and individuals ages 75 and older as of Thursday. With the significant expansion of its capacity this week, the county is on track to vaccinate more than 30,000 residents per week, officials said.
The county has reserved enough vaccines to administer the second doses to patients who have already been allocated or received the first dose, he said. The county is now permitting facilities to administer the vaccine to all health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities under the state's Phase 1A protocols and to residents who are 75 years old and older under Phase 1B. Kaiser Permanente is now offering limited vaccine appointments to patients age 65 and older.
Williams placed the blame squarely on President Donald Trump's administration, which he said had been more focused at the height of the pandemic on false election fraud claims instead of managing the vaccine program. He did not know why county and state officials haven't received communications that the vaccine stockpile isn't available or what it will mean for the rollout.
In the meantime, the county continues to increase its vaccinations by more than 1,000 per day. It is now administering about 6,000 vaccines daily, said Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
The county has set up two mass vaccination sites in San Jose at Santa Clara County Fairgrounds and at its medical center on Berger Drive. Next week, it plans to open an additional mass vaccination site.
State officials have said anyone age 65 and older will be eligible for the vaccines, but county leaders are only opening the administration to residents who are 75 years old and up due to the short supply.
"It is extraordinarily frustrating," Williams said, noting the information from the state and federal governments changes daily.
County leaders are also hampered by a fractured information system that has thus far hobbled efforts to track just how many doses are actually available in the county. The county's public health care system receives its doses from one source while medical providers such as Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health receive their allocations from the state. National pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens, which are administering vaccines to residents in skilled nursing and long-term care facilities, receive their doses from the federal government, as do Veterans Affairs medical facilities.
On Jan. 26, the Board of Supervisors will discuss further recommendations to coordinate the plans. County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody has issued an order for all health care providers in the county to deliver a plan by Feb. 4 on how they will administer the vaccines and to report their allotments.
Some health care providers have seen a crush of people who want to obtain the vaccine. On Thursday, Kaiser Permanente's and Sutter Health/Palo Alto Medical Foundation's websites crashed as patients attempted to book vaccine appointments.
In Santa Clara County, the public can track their eligibility for the vaccines, learn how to set up appointments and receive the latest information at sccfreevax.org.
County leaders said they hope President-elect Joe Biden's administration will straighten out the distribution issues, Supervisor Otto Lee said. Biden has said his administration would provide 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days in office.
"And we will hold him to that," Lee said.
Watch the county's full press conference here:
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.