On April 6, at the peak of demand, nearly 14,000 San Mateo County residents got a shot in the arm to protect them against the worst effects of COVID-19. But today, as cases start to pick up to an average of 41 per day with a dozen people currently hospitalized, vaccinations have stalled. Fewer than 1,000 residents are now getting a shot each day.
Part of the reason is that most county residents are already inoculated against COVID-19. The county reports nearly 90 percent of residents over the age of 12 are already vaccinated. That was the county’s original vaccination goal, but with the highly transmissible Delta variant spreading rapidly, it hasn’t been enough to prevent the recent rise in cases and hospitalizations. Reaching those who remain, and who are particularly vulnerable to the disease, is the county’s main focus, County Health Deputy Chief Srija Srinivasan said at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
“This is a really important period,” Srinivasan said. “... The absolute best strategy and the highest priority in these weeks is to reach people with vaccination. Hands down, that is our focus, that is what we’re striving to double down on in any way possible across the community to make sure people are able to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everybody.”
With clinics operating regularly and on-demand countywide, leaders from the county’s Office of Community Affairs are turning to community partners to get information and shots out to those who need it.
County leaders wrote in an email to the Review that current vaccine outreach efforts are targeted toward priority areas, like those reporting lower-than-average vaccine rates or high positivity rates for the disease. On the Coastside, the county is partnering with groups like Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, Coastside Hope, Puente de la Costa Sur and Senior Coastsiders, among other groups. At monthly meetings, the groups test messaging, review data and create action plans, including a four-pronged approach to building trust and coordination to guide messaging and when and where clinics operate.
“There’s still work to be done and we are working very closely with our partners to ensure that the voices of our residents are heard and we are responding in a culturally responsive and inclusive way,” Community Affairs Manager Emma Gonzalez wrote in an email to the Review.
One major target of the county’s vaccine outreach is toward at-risk communities, which in California, are measured by the Healthy Places Index that takes factors like income and geography into account. In San Mateo County, just 78.5 percent of residents 16 or older living in an at-risk community are vaccinated as compared to 90.3 percent overall.
In addition to working with community partners, the county has been setting up its own booths in public places with lower vaccination rates and sending out multilingual digital and physical information and advertising to get residents registered for a shot.
Gonzalez also noted that as San Mateo County libraries reopen full time this summer, staff are being trained in vaccine registration and in providing aid to residents in need of rental assistance during the pandemic.
COVID-19 Vaccination Branch Chief Anand Chabra said last week that he expects aggressive outreach efforts to continue for several more months. That includes targeting residents who have just gotten one vaccine in a two-shot series. That group makes up around 10 percent of vaccinated people in the county. But Chabra said calls to residents recorded as having just one dose revealed that most of those residents had gotten a second shot, but the data was misrecorded or missing.
Srinivasan said that while the county is seeing normal rates of breakthrough cases among vaccinated residents, those who remain unvaccinated are at the highest risk of getting the disease and make up the vast majority of serious COVID-19 cases.
“Folks who have been vaccinated, if they do get COVID, they can not end up in the hospital, they can not get serious illness,” Chabra said.
All three of the currently approved COVID-19 vaccinations have been shown to be effective against the Delta variant. Chabra said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration aren’t recommending booster shots at this time, although Pfizer is looking into the effectiveness of a booster shot.
“I think we will learn more in the coming months about the duration of protection (of the vaccines), but right now, it seems like the duration is long-lasting. While there may eventually be a need for a booster, it’s not yet,” Chabra said.