Demand for COVID-19 vaccinations in California has reached a turning point. Gone are the days when people repeatedly hit refresh on their computers, hoping to score a vaccination appointment. Now some clinics are accepting walk-ins and others end the day with unfilled appointments. That’s forcing health and government officials to rethink their vaccination programs.
Ann Mitchell is on the frontline of those new efforts. She is a volunteer with Meals on Wheels of the Monterey Peninsula. Recently, she's been spending her days calling clients and setting up vaccination appointments. Most of the people Meals on Wheels serves are homebound. Instead of having the clients arrange transportation to get a shot, Ann is arranging for the shots to come to them.
Christine Winge, the organization’s executive director, said Meals on Wheels has always been more than just a food delivery service.
“We do wellness checks on our clients regularly and we have sort of sped up this process now that the vaccine is readily available,” Winge said.
The organization brought more volunteers in and its doing additional welfare checks. The volunteers are making calls and, in addition to the usual questions, asking if the client has been vaccinated. If the answer is no, they ask if the client would like someone to come by and administer one.
The City of Monterey is also rethinking vaccinations. City officials are looking into clinics in neighborhood parks to make it easier for people to get the shots. Recently, they held a vaccination clinic at the foot of Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a favorite spot for locals and tourists.
Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula is holding pop-up clinics at places like the Boys and Girls Club and is offering vaccinations through its mobile clinic.
The Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System is taking on vaccine hesitancy with a television commercial. The commercial’s message is, “(The shots are) free and safe and it’s our best shot at getting back to normal.”
Dr. Allen Radner is the hospital’s chief medical officer and an infectious disease specialist. He said people have vaccine hesitancy for a number of reasons.
“They’re concerned about vaccines. They're concerned about what is being described as the rapidity with which these vaccines have become available. They're concerned about the long term consequences (of the vaccines),” said Radner.
According to Radner, educational outreach, like the commercial, is the best way to reach those who are hesitant. And to those who are hesitant he says, “Millions and millions of people have been vaccinated. We really aren't finding any hidden side effects or consequences.”
Another group the hospital is trying to reach is children. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration expanded emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for those aged 12 to 15. On Wednesday, a CDC panel voted to recommend Pfizer’s vaccine for the age group. Vaccine appointments for 12 to 15-year-olds could become available Thursday.
Radner said vaccinating young people in Monterey County can make a big difference.
“It turns out about 20 to 25 percent of the population is under the age of 16,” Radner said.
And then there are the healthcare workers who actually put the shots in arms.The Visiting Nurse Association of the Central Coast has been involved with the vaccination program since the very beginning. Andrea Zoodsma is the director of community services.
“It was New Year's Eve day that I was making an application and purchasing our freezer and getting us in shape to be a COVID provider,” recalled Zoodsma
In the beginning, VNA held clinics but shied away from home visits because of the expense.
“We're not in a position to offer vaccines in the home because of the storage and handling of the vaccine. Also because of the labor. Each visit requires (us) going into the home and then a 15 minute observation period and then drive to the next place. So one nurse could do perhaps six to eight visits in a day, whereas when we were doing our mass vaccination clinics in the beginning of the campaign, one nurse could see 100 people in a day,” Zoodsma said.
A grant from the Monterey County Community Foundation is now helping make the home visits possible. And Zoodsma said every vaccination is a step toward limiting and controlling the disease. This is her message to those who are hesitant — “Vaccines are one of public health's greatest triumphs, with the exception of safe water. No other health strategy has had such a tremendous effect on reducing disease and improving health.”
Even if the effort requires more creativity and determination now.