Vaccine supply creates anxiety as virus deaths pass 300 mark
Those 65 and older register online for shots — Batch of Moderna doses linked to allergic reactions
By BEVERLY BARELA &
Merced County’s total reported deaths linked to the COVID-19 virus surpassed the 300 mark this week as concern grows over the availability of vaccines in the region.
On Tuesday, 12 new deaths — all residents over the age of 65 — were reported by the Public Health Department, bringing the total number of local pandemic fatalities to 308.
The number of residents hospitalized with the virus in Merced County was 61 as of Wednesday morning.
This week started with a Public Health announcement that highlighted the department’s concern with low vaccine supply by the state:
“To date, the department has received approximately 6,000 vaccines for a county population of 277,680.”
All 6,000 vaccine doses were designated for Phase 1A, but recently the vaccination opportunities were extended to those age 65 and older — a Phase 1B group.
Community vaccination clinics, announced on Sunday along with a new registration website, were to be held on Jan. 20, 21 and 22 at the Merced County Fairgrounds, and another site in Los Banos. Due to a limited vaccine supply and to efficiently administer available doses, eligible individuals were vaccinated by appointment through the new website. However, the appointment slots were filled up in a matter of hours after Sunday’s announcement.
Those 65 and older can still register through the newly launched website, www.vaccinatemercedcounty.com. Additional vaccination sites and options are planned and will be activated as the vaccine becomes more widely available, officials say. When that happens, those who registered online will be notified. Applicants will then be asked to upload a few identification documents online to complete the appointments.
At this time, Merced County has received fewer vaccine doses than neighboring counties due to the state’s vaccine distribution formula. County officials are currently advocating for larger quantities and have been successful in those efforts to secure additional vaccine doses. A total of 975 doses were available to be administered this week through the clinics.
“The shortage of vaccines is a nationwide issue and is not unique to us locally,” said Dr. Salvador Sandoval, Merced County’s Public Health Officer. “We continue to ask everyone to be patient as we work toward securing additional doses of vaccine to serve the needs of our community.”
Nevertheless, local social media posts lit up over the weekend with hope upon the announcement of new vaccination clinics, and then frustration with concerns about how to get one of the coveted appointment slots.
“I signed my 75-year-old father up today,” read one post by Keri Decknick. “But if my 75-year-old father would’ve had to do it himself, it would’ve been impossible. I literally had to download and attach pics of his insurance card. My father is not tech savvy beyond checking his email. This would’ve been a nightmare for him.”
Barbara Jamison wrote, “I’m being told you can’t get past the first part with an iPhone. Computer needed. All the slots are full already.”
Jeanne Whitaker-Hutson pointed out: “Not everybody has access to an iPhone or knows how to use a computer efficiently enough to upload documents, especially the elderly who need the vaccine the most.”
“The prize goes to the young and resourceful,” added Nadine Smaby.
The new website does includes a feature where community volunteers can sign up to assist with the vaccination efforts in a capacity that fits their abilities and schedules.
“COVID-19 is a battle that we’re fighting hard to overcome, and now we have to finish strong,” said Chairman Daron McDaniel of the Merced County Board of Supervisors. “In the process of putting these tools and communications in place, we’ve heard from our constituents. They can be assured that they will know when they’re eligible to be vaccinated and how they can receive a vaccination. They can also be assured that the board is placing the highest priority on getting these vaccine doses available as quickly as possible.”
According to Public Health information shared this week, “The county is designated as a 100 percent Health Provider Shortage area, which means that the average number of health care providers across the board is lower than the state average. Due to this, the number of vaccines received has been extremely low. There are more people who need the vaccine based on their tier than the department has been allocated.
“The department is currently advocating for more vaccine and an ongoing higher overall allocation from the state.
“Nationally, the demand for vaccine remains very high, the supply is low in addition to other factors required for to conduct vaccine distribution and administration safely, ethically, and efficiently.
“Federal, state, and local agencies are coordinating each day, several times each day, with changing information. In addition, the vaccine itself must be controlled and maintained within very strict and complex standards.”
Meanwhile, the Merced County Department of Public Health is temporarily placing a hold on administering an allotment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine that is linked to possible allergic reactions
According to a county press release on Tuesday night, the department received 1,500 vaccine doses from the Moderna Lot 041L20A, which was linked to fewer than 10 apparent allergic reactions in the San Diego area. Approximately 150 individuals in Merced County received a vaccination from that lot from the department last week, no immediate reaction upon administration of the vaccine have been reported at this time.
It is unknown if the potential allergic reactions (reported from the San Diego area) were specific to the lot or the batch of Moderna vaccine. Out of an abundance of caution, the department is following state recommendations and temporary holding the remaining doses until the ongoing investigation is complete. Merced County was notified of the potential issue from the California Department of Public Health on Jan. 17 and immediately took action to place a hold on those vaccines.
“The state is reporting that so far this seems like an isolated incident of individuals potentially experiencing allergic reactions within the standard observation period,” said Dr. Sandoval. “It is expected that the COVID-19 vaccine, like all other vaccines, may have potential side effects. If you are experiencing any severe medical or psychological distress, please seek medical assistance immediately.”
For more information and the Merced County COVID-19 Dashboard, those interested can visit online at: www.countyofmerced.com/3502/Vaccine-Info.