A box of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo via U.S. Army Spc. Erin Conway/Flickr)

COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Santa Clara County has not gone as seamlessly as some county officials have hoped. Less than half of the county’s allotted vaccines have been used and many residents are uncertain on when, where and how they can get it.

So two Santa Clara County supervisors, board president Cindy Chavez and Supervisor Joe Simitian, are proposing an emergency ordinance that would require every hospital and clinic in the county to produce a written plan and timeline for vaccine distribution.

“We need speed, we need clarity, and we need transparency,” Chavez said. “And on top of that we need a very rigorous communication framework so that everyone knows when to expect it’s their turn [for the vaccine].”

Currently, vaccine distribution is very fragmented, which makes it hard to know where gaps are and to accurately anticipate a vaccine distribution timeline.

Private or non-profit health care systems like Stanford Health Care or El Camino Health get their vaccines through the county but oversee distribution themselves.

Multi-county entities, like Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health, which insure half of the county’s population, get their own vaccine batches shipped from the state and govern themselves in distribution.

Federal agencies like Veteran Affairs or Indian Health Centers have their own vaccine plans for their respective community.

And a federal program between CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens heads up vaccine distribution for residents and staff in long-term care facilities.

“Part of the reason that Supervisor Simitian and I are requesting this transparency is that the state is communicating directly with the entities like Sutter and Kaiser,” Chavez said. “The U.S. federal government’s communicating directly with the VA hospitals, but that doesn’t tell us how far or how fast we’re moving within the county.”

As of Friday, only 47,000 people had received vaccines from the county’s 110,000 total vaccines, according to the county’s Public Health Department. The 47,000 people does not include shots given at different federal-run entities.

Simitian believed one of the reasons for the lag is because priority groups may be too narrow.

“Taking too fine a slice in looking at Phase 1A, Tier one before we get to the next tier means that we are not moving the vaccine out as quickly as we can to as many people as we can,” Simitian said.

Data collection would help identify if that is one of the reasons for the lag, he noted.
But many of the other entities are not obligated to share data with the county and the supervisors are banking on the shared goal to effectively distribute the vaccine to encourage data sharing.

The emergency ordinance will be discussed during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. It is not the end-all solution, Simitian said, but it is a start in the right direction.

“Only if we know what’s being done can we know what isn’t being done,” Simitian said. “Data is the tool that we use to make sure we get to everyone in the county.”

“If you take just a moment to look at the numbers, we can’t afford to lose a month; we can’t afford to lose a week. We cannot afford to lose a single day,” he said.