A health care worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo via Alberta Newsroom/Flickr)

Residents in Santa Clara County who are 65 years and older can now get vaccinated for COVID-19 at any health care provider or vaccination site, regardless of their health insurance, county officials announced Thursday.

That means someone insured by Kaiser Permanente can make appointments at the county clinics or an individual with Medi-Cal can go to Sutter Health, for example.

“There is no wrong door,” County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. “Everyone who lives in our county who is 65 years and older … can come to any of the health systems.”

The “no wrong door” system was implemented in an effort to streamline vaccination for residents most vulnerable and ensure equal and easy access, Cody said.

“Given limited supply of vaccine and the continuing high rates of COVID-19, we must prioritize vaccinating those at greatest risk of death or serious illness,” Cody said.

Because those 65 years and older constitute 81 percent of the COVID-19 death toll, they are considered the most vulnerable, Cody said.

The change in policy comes after news that large multi-county health care providers have had to cancel appointments because of vaccine shortages.

For example, Kaiser Permanente said it was forced to cancel more than 5,000 vaccination appointments scheduled from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5.

That, coupled with the state’s “complex vaccine distribution” and allocation system, has resulted in “uneven” vaccine rollout, County Executive Jeff Smith said.

“When we saw that Kaiser was forced to cancel clinics, we had to ask ourselves, ‘how can we fix that, how can we intervene the best way possible?'” Smith said. “The state has been focused on distributing vaccine in smaller amounts to various agencies, and it’s become obvious that the amounts going to Kaiser and [Palo Alto Medical Foundation] are inadequate to care for their patients.”

That is especially a problem because those two providers insure half of the county’s population.

Currently, vaccine supply in the county’s health care system is enough to last about two to three weeks, Smith said. And so far, 37 percent of the county’s 75+ population and 24 percent of the county’s 65+ population have been vaccinated.

“So, we still have a long ways to go and we clearly do not have enough vaccine on hand to get there,” Smith said. “But we have assurances from the feds and from the state that the vaccine numbers will be increasing by at least 20 percent.”

Smith also noted that the state is working on a new vaccine distribution plan that would provide Santa Clara County with 6,000 vaccine doses delivered daily Monday through Friday and 1,000 on Saturday and Sunday.

And with three mass vaccination centers up and running, in addition to several county clinics, private health care providers and centers in hard-hit communities like the Mexican Heritage Community Center in East San Jose, Smith is confident the county has the infrastructure to support fast and substantial vaccination.

Despite the challenges, this new “no wrong door” system is a step in the right direction, county officials emphasized.

“If we say, ‘we’re all in this together,’ we have to mean it,” County Supervisor Joe Simitian said. “Access to the vaccine cannot be dependent on who your health care provider is, or the number of vaccines they happen to receive in any given week.”

“I’m convinced today’s announcement will get us there more fully, more fairly and faster,” he continued.

Eligible residents can make appointments through the county’s website at sccfreevax.org or by calling the Valley Connection Call Center at (408) 970-2000.

The Call Center is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and assistance is available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and other languages.

To track COVID-19 vaccinations in the county, people can visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard for daily updates at https://www.sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/dashboard-vaccine.aspx?mc_cid=aee9a8daa9&mc_eid=882534314e.