A mass Covid-19 vaccination site with the capacity to administer 1,000 injections per day will open at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville next week, but it is unlikely that it will reach its capacity anytime soon because of a continuing shortage of Covid-19 vaccine doses.
That’s according to Santa Cruz County health officials who at Friday’s weekly press conference again said the rollout of the vaccine has continued its slow pace. The county received 200 doses this week, and is expected to receive another 2,000 next week.
It has received about 20,000 doses in total of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That number does not include the doses sent to health care providers, hospitals or the federal pharmacy program.
County officials do not know the total number of doses that have been administered through those other avenues, but were confident that they would move on from Phase 1A—which prioritized health care workers, skilled nursing facilities and some first responders—of the vaccination plan early next week with the help of the County Fairgrounds vaccination site.
That site on Monday will administer vaccines to people in Phase 1A who have not yet received the shot, and County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said it would then open to those in Phase 1B by the end of the week.
It will be open by appointment only, and health officials urged the public to stay away until their turn arises.
Those who have insurance and a primary health care provider will most likely receive their vaccine there—and Newel said some providers have already begun administering shots to those 75 and older, the top tier of Phase 1B.
The doses the county receives will be used to vaccinate those without insurance and other disadvantaged communities determined by the state’s Healthy Places Index that have been the most impacted by the pandemic. Most of Watsonville falls in that pool, as well as the Beach Flats community in Santa Cruz.
Those vaccines will be distributed through the mass vaccination site, and various clinics through the county, including Salud Para La Gente in Watsonville. Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall said the county is also working on plans to bring the vaccine directly to those communities with “strike teams.”
Hall said that the state is running a handful of vaccination pilot programs at Covid-19 testing sites operated by OptumServe—similar to the Ramsay Park site in Watsonville—in which staff there administer vaccines. She said she hopes the state will expand that program to Santa Cruz and other counties of similar size.
But officials warned those plans are still weeks away from being realized, as vaccine doses continue to be in short supply and the state struggles to quickly distribute the available doses. California ranks last in the country in percentage of shots used, administering just 37.3% of its doses, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. The national rate is 48.6%.
More doses are not expected to be widely available until the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved by the FDA, which experts believe could take several more months.
Local intensive care unit (ICU) capacity continues to be heavily impacted, as there have been no beds available at local hospitals since Jan. 13, according to data reported to the state. But the Bay Area region’s ICU capacity has improved over the past week, and Newel said state officials told her that the region could exit the stay-at-home order in the next two weeks.
Newel said Santa Cruz County would not break from the rest of the region when the restrictions lift, meaning restaurants would be able to resume outdoor operations and other businesses, such as barbershops and salons, could allow customers indoors.