COVID booster shots: Santa Clara County's push to prepare for mass rollout

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- There was no planning for the COVID-19 pandemic. Early vaccination distribution resulted in long lines, confusion, and operations that left a lot to be desired.

Fast forward nearly eight months, now several Bay Area counties including Santa Clara are making plans to rollout booster shots.

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County Supervisor Joe Simitian is adamant that now is the time to get ready.

"I think people are already starting to ask, 'Do I need a booster? And if so, when, where and how do I get it,'" he told ABC7 News. "And we have to have good answers for them."

Calling county residents a "very motivated population," Dr. Jennifer Tong said the federal government's announcement about booster shots becoming widely available to everyone beginning September 20, provides the county a clearer timeline to work toward.

"We're able to know roughly, in the county, how many people were vaccinated over time to be able to plan for the volumes that will be eligible for booster shots," she said. "Based on that eight month timeline."

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Dr. Tong is the Associate Chief Medical Officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

"At that point in time, health care workers and the most elderly individuals who had been the first group to receive vaccines back in December and January will probably be eligible," she added.

As the Bay Area's biggest county, there is plenty to consider.

Dr. Tong explained, "Some of the large healthcare systems will be better able to serve their own patients. We have more private, community-based physician offices that have enrolled as vaccine providers- who will also be able to serve their patients for boosters."

"We have a lot of commercial pharmacies that have now set up vaccine operations," she continued.

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Dr. Tong telling ABC7 News, the county's role is really just to augment that existing infrastructure.

She said the county doesn't anticipate it will need to use larger sites, like Levi's Stadium, for booster shot distribution.

"But we do anticipate expanding our current sites and opening some new ones, to ensure that the county has enough capacity to provide boosters as people meet that timeline for eligibility," Dr. Tong shared.

"We anticipate this will probably be rolled out in phases," County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody told the Board of Supervisors at their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

She said the most vulnerable would be recommended for the third shot first, followed by others.

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For those who are immunocompromised, Dr. Tong said, "Those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised are already eligible for a third dose- and it's not technically called a booster dose."

For that population, Dr. Tong said the third dose can be administered 28 days after their second dose.

"It's currently FDA approved, it's CDC recommended and available at our county operated sites as well as most providers, pharmacies in the county," she said.

Dr. Tong continued, "We don't yet know what the FDA will recommend for the immunocompromised population who will have already received three doses. We don't yet know what they'll recommend in terms of timing and possible booster for that population."

ABC7 News asked Dr. Tong what proof will be required for those seeking a booster shot.

She said it'll be similar to the practice that is already in place.

"When people come for their second dose, we make sure that they're coming at the right time interval- that they haven't come too soon for that second dose," she explained. "The same process will be in place for the third dose. That individuals will either need to bring a vaccine card showing when they received their second dose."

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If a vaccine card isn't available, she anticipates the county will try to look up the information on the state's immunization registry.

"So those coming early will likely be told, 'You need to wait and come back,'" Dr. Tong shared. "Because we do have to follow the federal regulations for the planning of boosters."

While county officials kick planning into high gear, they also need to be mindful of the unvaccinated population. According to the county's vaccination dashboard, at least 86.2-percent of residents who are 12-years-old and up have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

RELATED: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test to be required at indoor events in CA

The effort to get the rest of the community vaccinated is on-going.

"Even as we're trying to make sure we reach out to folks who still haven't gotten the vaccine at all, we're gonna have to talk to folks who say, 'You know, it's been 8 months and it's time for me to think about a booster,'" Supervisor Simitian told ABC7 News.

"We've got to figure out a way to make sure everybody's on the same page," he continued. "That it's clear, consistent and easy. If it's clear, consistent and easy, people will step up. If it's not, they won't."

At the Board of Supervisors meeting on August 17, the Board directed County staff to provide a written report, detailing the county-wide booster shot distribution plan to them at the board's September 14 meeting.


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