Editor’s note: Dr. William Miller, chief of staff at the Adventist Health Mendocino Coast Hospital, is writing weekly reports concerning the COVID-19 situation on the Mendocino Coast. We are pleased to be running his health column, with details on the medical fight against the pandemic. The views shared in this weekly column are those of the author, Dr. William Miller, and do not necessarily represent those of The Mendocino Voice or of Adventist Health.
As of this writing, 176 million doses of the various COVID vaccines have been given worldwide. Perhaps it is not surprising that the vast majority of these have been distributed in more affluent countries. The US has received 70 million doses of Moderna and Pfizer combined with 53 million being administered, most of those first time doses. This represents 30% of the total worldwide doses while the US represents 4% of the world’s 7.79 billion population.
In California, with our 31 million people, the state has received 8 million doses and administered 5.8 million. At a rate of 72% doses administered, this is a significant improvement in getting shots into arms than when I reported on this a few weeks ago.
In an effort to accelerate administration of the vaccine, California is making two big changes. First, and most likely to have an immediate benefit in my opinion, is that the complex tier system is being simplified to focus on age starting at 75 years old and above and moving down in 5-year increments. Providers are allowed to consider conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, immune deficiencies and emphysema in potentially moving a person up regardless of age.
The second change is that the insurance company Blue Shield is being subcontracted to oversee the distribution of the vaccine in California. According to an LA Times article of February 15th, the goal is to distribute 3 million vaccines per week, however, last week the state only received 1 million doses from the Feds. So, availability may be a hurdle in achieving that goal. Blue Shield is tasked to create an algorithm that directs where the vaccines will be sent and is supposed to take into account COVID infection rates plus ensure “equitable” distribution. Quoting the article, “Under the contract, Blue Shield also has wide latitude to select which healthcare providers and counties will continue to receive and administer doses in California as part of a vaccine network.”
Criticism has been raised that we are switching how vaccines are distributed right at the moment that we were starting to work out the kinks in the present system. Blue Shield has indicated that distributions will occur to counties in “geographical waves”. The first wave going to the Central Valley on February 21st, the second wave will include the Los Angeles Basin on March 7th and the San Francisco Bay Area will be March 14th according to the Times article.
It remains to be seen how this will affect distribution here in Mendocino County. Dr. Andy Coren, our Public Health Officer, shared with me his perspective. “Mendocino County, with our clinic and hospital partners working together, has been doing very well quickly distributing the vaccines we have received,” he said. “California may need a third partner administrator for accounting and distribution. I hope it will not cause more confusion or delays or interfere with our local efforts which have been so effective.”
Notwithstanding the above, vaccine doses to the Coast have been increasing. Adventist Health Mendocino Coast (AHMC) has been ramping up its local administration of the vaccine and gave about 500 doses locally last week and plans to give another 720 doses this week. Approximately half of those are going to patients enrolled in AHMC Medical Offices (formerly North Coast Family Health and Ft. Bragg Rural Health Clinic), and patients of Drs. Jeff Berenson, Jennifer Stewart and Sandy Brown. The other half or so are being given to the general public. Following the State’s revised guidelines, ages 70 and above are currently being prioritized. “Our mass vaccination clinics so far have been a great success,” said Clara Slaughter, Director of Out-patient Clinic Operations here in Ft. Bragg. “I would like to thank the volunteers from the Mendocino Coast Healthcare Foundation, the Health Care District Board and the Ft. Bragg Rotary Club for their help as well as CV Starr for providing the space. Also, the Ft. Bragg police have been very helpful in managing traffic at the events,” Slaughter added. Persons interested to get on the AHMC list for vaccination should go to the website www.bitly.com/AHmendo_notify to sign up or call 707-961-4718.
Mendocino Coast Clinics (MCC) received only 105 doses this week to be given as boosters to essential workers who already got their first dose. Lucresha Rentoria, CEO of MCC, said they are still waiting to see if they will get any first doses this week. For first dose recipients, MCC is currently targeting 75 years and above while working to divide the supply between their own patients and the general public as doses become available. The best way to get on the list for MCC is register at the state website myturn.ca.gov or call their clinic if you are an MCC patient. MCC continues to be the leader here on the Coast as the place to get a COVID surveillance test performed with a turnaround of the result in less than a week, sometimes just a couple of days. Testing there is on Wednesdays and Thursdays; an appointment can be made by calling 707-964-1251. The Health Department is also offering testing weekly on Tuesdays at the Veterans Hall in Ft. Bragg, no appointment necessary.