A team from San Mateo County Health's Street & Field Medicine vaccinates individuals experiencing homelessness at a clinic at a church in San Bruno. (Photo courtesy of Preston Merchant/San Mateo County Health)

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in San Mateo County, health officials have set a goal to vaccinate at least 80 percent of people in every community and subgroup by year-end.

Overall, the county aims to vaccinate 90 percent of residents countywide.

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During a meeting of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Louise Rogers, chief of San Mateo County Health, said once more that vaccines remain the most powerful tool amid the “concerning rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.”

“Each time a San Mateo County resident chooses to receive the vaccine, we are all safer. Thus our major focus remains maximizing the reach of vaccines among our residents,” Rogers said.

A schedule of weekly vaccine clinics is available online at https://www.smchealth.org/vaccine-clinic-calendar. The clinics are welcome to all and do not require an appointment.

As of Monday, the county has hit its goal of vaccinating 90 percent of people countywide, as 89.6 percent of residents 12 and older have received at least the first dose of the vaccine.

But there are still pockets of the population — such as specific communities, racial/ethnic groups and age groups — where less than 80 percent have been vaccinated.

Geographically, the communities of Broadmoor, East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks, El Granada, Loma Mar and Moss Beach have vaccination rates that range from that range from 51 percent to 76 percent.

In terms of race and ethnicity, vaccination rates lag below 80 percent among African American, Hispanic, multi-racial and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander groups.

And in terms of age, the youngest and oldest population groups have had the lowest vaccination rates, with 68 percent of 12-to-15 year-olds vaccinated and 64 percent of residents 85 and older vaccinated.

Dr. Anand Chabra, San Mateo County Health COVID-19 mass vaccination section chief, said that “each day brings relatively small increases” in the number of vaccinated residents but it was important that no communities are left behind.

About 74,000 county residents eligible for vaccination remain unvaccinated, Chabra said.

To address the low vaccination rates in some groups, the county will focus on creating convenient vaccination strategies and increasing people’s confidence in vaccines.

The county also has a vaccine education task force working to share materials that answer questions about the vaccine.

To reach its goal, the county aims to hold 14 vaccine clinics per week from August to at least October.

Rogers emphasized that unvaccinated individuals are at a higher risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19. Plus, most COVID-19 cases nationwide have been among unvaccinated people.

Breakthrough cases – COVID-19 cases among vaccinated individuals – have been rare in San Mateo County.

Between December and mid-July, less than 1 percent of COVID-19 cases in San Mateo County have been among vaccinated individuals. Specifically, there have been 158 breakthrough cases out of 17,148 cases total, Chabra said.

However, Rogers said vaccinated people infected with the delta variant can still spread the virus, as the delta variant is more transmissible than other variants.

Rogers also noted a rise in cases at long-term care facilities.

Supervisor Dave Pine asked whether the cases at long-term care facilities were breakthrough cases, as long-term care residents were one of the first groups in line for the vaccine.

“We’ve done a very good job of getting everyone vaccinated,” Rogers said. “But the flow of patients in and out of those facilities also introduces some risk so I can’t confirm that they are actually all breakthrough cases.”

A recent state health order will require long-term care facilities to verify the vaccination status of their workers, starting Aug. 9.

While Board President David Canepa agreed with the idea of “vaccine passports”, which would require proof of vaccination in certain settings, Rogers said they would have to consider who has the authority to regulate a vaccine passport.

Canepa reminded the public that vaccines are safe and effective.

“Vaccinations do work and there’s the science and data to back it up,” Canepa said. “So I want to reaffirm that to people who are non-believers.”

San Mateo County’s COVID-19 health data and information are available at https://www.smchealth.org/coronavirus.