Finding hope
Susie Tempesta holds out her first vaccination card at her home in El Granada on Monday. Adam Pardee / Review

Amid stalled vaccine distribution and the threat of variants derailing progress in lowering local case rates, it’s easy to feel like the COVID-19 pandemic is never going away. But some signs of hope — from new vaccination options to local reports of success in getting the vaccine — are emerging.

El Granada resident Susie Tempesta got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine last week alongside her husband. While it won’t change her day-to-day life dramatically, she said it was a relief.

“The next morning, when I woke up, something had changed,” Tempesta said. “I had hope. There was less despair. Things are going to be OK.”

Tempesta was among the many local residents who got their shots at county and private health care provider sites last week, as distribution for those 65 and older began to ramp up. Last week, Sutter Health announced it was expanding eligibility to all members 65 and older, and San Mateo County continued to arrange shots for its senior Health Plan of San Mateo members, with second doses for in-home service workers and Dignity Health patients to come in the next two weeks.

The county also joined seven other Bay Area jurisdictions in reaffirming its commitment to prioritizing shots for patients 65 and older who make up nearly three-quarters of deaths locally. According to Deputy Health Chief Srija Srinivasan, nearly a quarter of the county’s 130,000 residents 65 and older have been vaccinated so far.

Tempesta, who went to the San Mateo Events Center for her shot, said the operation appeared seamless. Although it wasn’t crowded when she got her vaccine last week, she said it was clear the site was preparing for larger volumes of patients in the future.

“It was so well-organized,” Tempesta said. “I was so impressed.”

County Manager Mike Callagy said the county is in the process of bringing on a vendor to establish a call center to manage the expected influx of questions, appointment requests and individualized needs, including transportation arrangements.

On Feb. 11, the federal government begins its partnership with pharmacies nationwide, including CVS and Rite Aid in California, to get 1 million doses into arms at the community level. Specific locations have not yet been announced.

Meanwhile, the federal government is set to open the Oakland Coliseum as a mass vaccination site on Feb. 16 to give out 6,000 Moderna doses per day.

COVID-19 case rates are dropping locally, too. It appears that the winter surge is beginning to level out in San Mateo County, where daily case numbers are hovering around the 100 range, as down from the 400 range.

New vaccines are on the horizon that may improve the supply in the long term. A new one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, reported to have 66 percent efficacy, may be approved soon. The company asked for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration last week.

Deaths, however, continue to rise in the county. And the effect of new, more transmissible variants, which have rendered at least one vaccine less effective, remains to be seen.

“We have seen many more fatalities with this last surge than any other time in the pandemic and it is very humbling and very sobering about the toll of this disease and it’s seriousness,” Srinivasan said. “We don’t expect that we’re out of the woods yet, unfortunately.”

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