Early vaccinations may depend on your health care provider

While every Californian over 65 is encouraged to get a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible, finding one can depend on where you get your health care.

Due to the disparate nature of vaccine deployment, not all older people will have equal access to vaccines, at least not immediately. The first doses of the vaccine will likely be for patients receiving their care directly from one of Sonoma County’s Big Three: Kaiser Permanente, St. Joseph Health and Sutter Health. Even for them, experiences can vary in a way that seems random.

People cared for by independent doctors and health clinics – and people without any insurance – are likely to wait longer for a chance to get the vaccine.

“When we set up our system in a way that allows our (private) health systems to immunize, what is reality is our health care system in Sonoma County,” said Jason Cunningham, CEO of West County. Health centers. “It’s not something we’re doing just because of the pandemic. This is what we inherently have. Which creates a problem of disparities.

The speed at which the Federal Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines was unprecedented in American history. The approval was a major breakthrough in the fight to contain a virus that has killed more than 400,000 people nationwide, and at least 247 in Sonoma County. But the fast-track process did not allow for transparent planning and implementation.

The result is a system in which vaccine doses arrive in Sonoma County via multiple streams. Some come to the county health services department to be dispersed to clinics and small hospitals, others directly to major medical providers such as Kaiser Permanente, others to the Safeway Pharmacy chain, still others to CVS and Walgreens, which provide long-term care for the elderly. facilities.

Until now, the vast majority of these doses have been reserved for frontline medical workers. Now the county is preparing to move on to vaccinating seniors living independently, a much more complex level. And the timing of these first doses for older people may well depend on their health care plans.

The first in line will likely be those who pay for the benefits through the mega-providers – Kaiser, Sutter and St. Joseph, which owns the Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals.

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Jan. 15 that the state was opening Phase 1B, Level 1 to all people over 65, and urged counties to vaccinate seniors “immediately.” But with rare doses, hospitals have had to distribute them carefully.

“Each week we receive a fraction of the vaccine needed to meet our demand,” Kaiser said in a Jan. 18 electronic newsletter to members. “Kaiser Permanente cares for over 1.5 million members aged 65 and over, and last week we received a vaccine supply of just 20,000 first doses. “

Locally, Sutter and Kaiser both now schedule appointments for patients 75 and older, although they don’t have enough doses for even this smaller demographic. Sutter asks members to register online or by phone; Kaiser sends an eligibility notification by email or the postal service.

Chad Krilich, chief medical officer for St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, said his hospitals will begin vaccinating people aged 65 and over next week.

“I think this is the right next step in the process,” Krilich said. “It’s very encouraging to be able to share this with the public, to be able to show that we are moving in the right direction. But what I’m not going to say to your readers is: “Look at us, we have arrived”. Because there is still a lot of work to be done.

As Krilich noted, the total population of Sonoma County is close to 500,000, and the number of residents 65 and over is in the order of 100,000. As of Wednesday, a total of 26,237 doses had been administered. in the county (excluding the federal CVS / Walgreens program), the equivalent of giving a full two-dose course to just over 13,000 people.

Even among patients of the largest providers, experiences have varied. Some Kaiser subscribers have said they spent hours on hold while trying to schedule a vaccination appointment, only to give up in frustration. Others have been more successful.

Elizabeth Apana from Santa Rosa said she waited 3 hours 46 minutes to reach a representative for Kaiser. His reward was a vaccination appointment, scheduled two days later. The catch: it was in San Francisco, where she was receiving her medical care. To complicate matters further, Apana’s car was in the store. Still, she jumped at the chance. She ended up taking a Golden Gate Transit bus to receive her first dose of Moderna, a trip that took two hours each way.

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