All the pieces for providing COVID-19 vaccines to Tulare County residents are basically their except the most important piece of all: the required supply of the vaccines themselves.
That was the reported given by Tulare County Health and Human Services Director Tim Lutz during his weekly presentation on the status of COVID-19 in the county at Tuesday's Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting. “Supply remains our No. 1 restraint,” Lutz said.
But Lutz added the rush to provide vaccines by Blue Shield, which has taken over the distribution of vaccines for the state, could also backfire. Lutz said Blue Shield had set its “expedited” rollout in Tulare County to happen by the end of the week, but he added that's not likely to happen. “Overall the rollout from Blue Shield seems to be rushed and haphazard,” Lutz said.
He also said it's not realistic to expect the rollout to happen soon when as of Tuesday many providers who will be providing the vaccine haven't come to an agreement on a contract with Blue Shield. Lutz said providers are being given a “take it or leave it approach” with Blue Shield when it comes to receiving the vaccines.
So the effort could actually lead to a “result opposite of what the state intends,” Lutz said about providing as many vaccines to residents as soon as possible.
On Monday Governor Gavin Newsom promised the Central Valley would be receiving more vaccines, but that hasn't really materialized this week, Lutz said. As a result one “pod” at the Porterville Veterans Memorial Building that was set to begin offering vaccines won't be able to offer vaccines this week. Lutz said he hopes the Porterville facility will be able to offer vaccines beginning next week.
The scheduled for administering vaccines at the Porterville Memorial Building will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
The increase in vaccines Newsom has promised translates to 6,300 doses a week, up from the 3,500 does a week the county has been receiving, Lutz said. But again that increase didn't happen this week, delaying the opening of the Porterville site for vaccines.
So the county will just be able to move forward this week with opening three “pods” for offering vaccines in Dinuba, Woodlake and Earlimart, Lutz said. He added more pods in places such as Lindsay to provide vaccines can be added in the future.
There's also concern with the fact the registration system for vaccines allows those within a 50-mile radius to sign up to be vaccinated. So that means those from Fresno, Kings and Kern Counties could sign up for vaccinations in Tulare County.
Board Chair Amy Shuklian said “that is not OK” with the limited amount of vaccines Tulare County is receiving. But board member Pete Vander Poel “I'm OK with that if the huge vaccination comes with it” on providing vaccines on a more regional basis as long as the county receives the necessary increase in doses to do that.
Lutz said he's also concerned the state's changing policies concerning the distribution of vaccines may upend the county's efforts as far as what it's already doing. “We're concerned about losing that local flexibility,” Lutz said.
But Lutz said the county's effort to vaccinate eligible targeted groups such as those who work in public safety, educators in schools and child care and those who work in the food and agriculture industry such as grocery store workers and farmworkers continues. He said at one event the county was able to vaccinate 1,100 farmworkers.
He added there's an event scheduled for the end of this week at Ruiz Foods and the county has the ability to vaccinate all 1,800 staff at the facility based on available vaccines. He said Save Mart has agreed to provide vaccinations for its workers at all of its Tulare County locations.
There's also a partnership with the Tulare County Office of Education that included providing vaccines to 400 educators at Monache on Friday. The Porterville Unified School District has agreed to continue to offer vaccines to educators in its district and from surrounding districts as well in the future when vaccines become available.
There's also another vaccination event scheduled for Thursday at Tulare's International Ag Center, Lutz said. But the message from the county to the state continues to be this: “Give us the doses we can do it,” said Lutz as far as the county's ability to offer vaccines.
The status of the vaccination effort so far is this: As of Tuesday more than two months after the first vaccines were allocated, less than 10 percent of Tulare County residents have received vaccines. Lutz reported 37,985 residents have received vaccines with a total of 59,283 doses — which includes second doses — have been administered.
Lutz did say the county has been able to provide first doses for virtually all those in public safety and is now ready to move on to providing them second doses.
And Lutz said Tulare County will receive more than $25 million in federal funds to help with the cost of administering vaccines.
For more information on vaccines visit https://covid19.tularecounty.ca.gov/covid-19-vaccine/