A San Mateo County COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic, operated by Stanford Health Care, at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto, Calif. in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Preston Merchant / San Mateo County Health)

Some San Mateo County communities where COVID-19 vaccination rates lagged the county average are finally catching up.

This means the county is making progress toward its goal to vaccinate at least 80 percent of every eligible community by the end of the year.

During a meeting of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Dr. Anand Chabra, San Mateo County Health COVID-19 mass vaccination section chief, noted some of the improvements in vaccination rates since August.

Over 80 percent of residents in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks – two communities which have had lower vaccination rates since mass vaccinations began – have been vaccinated.

Vaccination rates in the oldest and youngest populations were also lagging in August. Now, more than 80 percent of 12-to-15-year-olds and residents 85 and older have also been vaccinated.

“While we certainly hope to vaccinate as close to 100 percent of county residents as possible, we want to make sure that no communities are left behind,” Chabra said.

Yet several smaller communities, like Broadmoor, El Granada, Loma Mar and Moss Beach, continue to see some of the lowest vaccination rates, between 53 and 70 percent.

Chabra said that vaccination rates may have already reached 80 percent in Broadmoor and Loma Mar, as data challenges may make it difficult to have an accurate view of vaccination rates.

For one, Census 2020 data shows a decline in the populations in these communities.

Because the populations are so small, there’s also a wider range of population estimates.

“So you come up with different percentages depending on if you use the lower range of the population estimate versus the higher range,” Chabra said.

And the fact that people use P.O. box addresses makes population counts difficult as the P.O. box may be in a different town from where they live.

There are also data challenges when trying to track vaccination rates by race and ethnicity.

Less than 80 percent of people in the county who are Black, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and multiracial have been vaccinated. But for another 89,000 of vaccinated people, their race is unknown or marked as “other.”

“We believe that these 89,000 include many residents who are Black, Hispanic or multiracial or Pacific Islander. We just don’t know which group they fall into and we don’t have that data,” Chabra said.

San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee also provided an update at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that so far, they have not seen COVID-19 spreading through schools.

All the county’s school districts are currently open with safety protocols such as mask requirements, ventilation and contact tracing in place. Most school employees have been vaccinated.

But if there is a positive case, schools will respond with a plan to test anyone who has been in contact with the positive case.

Magee said the county Office of Education is also tracking COVID-19 cases and that most school districts have a data dashboard showing cases. Links to these dashboards are available online at https://www.smcoe.org/for-communities/covid-19-resources/.

“We are tracking who has them up and who doesn’t, and we’re working with those who are not yet up and running,” Magee said. “It’s not a lack of transparency. It’s more a lack of staff capacity to get everything done all at once. But I would expect that within a month every district in our county will post its own dashboard that reports out the most important information to a school community.”

Visit https://www.smchealth.org/coronavirus for more information on COVID-19 in San Mateo County, including a vaccine clinic calendar, case rates and vaccination rates.