With the ommicron COVID-19 strain spreading in the Bay Area and a possible fifth wave of cases on the horizon, residents of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are gathering to take booster shots. In Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos, 41% of eligible residents have received the boosters, according to Santa Clara County.
Public health leaders in both provinces say they’ve also seen a good start with vaccinating children ages 5 to 11, the last eligible group, but they want to work harder to get kids in that age group vaccinated.
Santa Clara County began administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to its 5- to 11-year-olds on Nov. 3, the day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved emergency use approval. The pediatric dosage is one third that for adults.
As of Wednesday, 39% of children in that group have been vaccinated with at least one shot, according to county data. Half of those 65,938 children have been fully vaccinated, state data shows.
But in Santa Clara County, vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds have hit a plateau, Dr. Ahmad Kamal, the COVID-19 director of health care in Santa Clara County, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Kamal said the county is working with the Office of Education to run more clinics, is looking for more after-school appointments, and will redistribute pediatric vaccines to locations where they’ve seen the most demand.
There is room for hope that the number of children being vaccinated will rise. After a slow start and parental concerns about vaccine safety, a whopping 92.3% of children in the next youngest age group, 12 to 17-year-olds, have been vaccinated, according to county data.
San Mateo County shows a similar trajectory. Louise Rogers, chief of the San Mateo County Health System, said on Tuesday that 38% of eligible children ages 5 to 11 have had their first injections, and she has been encouraged that number will continue to rise.
Both provinces have already slightly exceeded the expected national average for pediatric vaccination. A recent survey by the Kaiser Foundation found that nationwide only a third of parents planned to have their children vaccinated against the coronavirus, Rogers said at a meeting of the San Mateo County Board of Trustees.
Her department has been encouraged by the initial turnout, and she hopes the number will continue to rise as more clinics become available, she said. The health department is working with the San Mateo County Office of Education to set up vaccination sites in 13 school locations.
dr. Anand Chabra, chief of the mass vaccination course for COVID-19 in San Mateo County, said the county would have a more complete picture of vaccination coverage for children ages 5 to 11 by next week.
The county health department will continue to push for more public education to help parents understand that the vaccines are safe and necessary, especially in light of the recent appearance of the ommicron variant. Omicron is thought to be more transmissible than previous variants, including the ubiquitous delta strain, but it’s not yet known whether it causes a more serious infection, Rogers said.
dr. Santa Clara County health officer Sara Cody said the number of cases is rising again in what could culminate in a fifth wave of the virus. The seven-day moving average of cases has risen from 165 on Nov. 26 to 195 on Dec. 8, according to county data. Data related to the Thanksgiving holiday, when many families gathered, aren’t yet available to see how big the spike could be, she said.
The Santa Clara County Health Department is also seeing an increase in DNA fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the scientific name for the coronavirus, in wastewater, another sign of growing infections in the community, Cody said.
Lately, both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have struggled with logistical issues that have frustrated some vaccine seekers.
Santa Clara County supervisor Joe Simitian said he tried unsuccessfully to get a repeat appointment at the county’s Mountain View vaccine clinic. He had heard from voters that no appointments were available within hours of the appointment dates being released.
“The hard fact is that we have a demand that is not being met,” Simitian said, even though there is plenty of supply. He urged staff to push the province’s vaccine partners, such as the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, to offer more appointments.
Simitian said he is concerned that the lack of prompt agreements will deter people from doing what the province believes is most important to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Community members have told him they are COVID fatigued; the desire to get the boosters is starting to wane, he said.
“You don’t get the same level of cooperation,” he said as with the first round of vaccinations.
To remedy the situation, Kamal said in the past two weeks that Santa Clara County has added 2,000 additional appointment times per day. The province allows booking appointments 17 days in advance at locations where slots fill up quickly. They will also redistribute pediatric-versus-booster shots based on demand, such as giving boosters earlier in the day and scheduling pediatric slots after school and on weekends. Emergency responders and other district personnel will also be tapped to help deliver the shots.
San Mateo County has had similar logistical problems. The health department canceled a vaccine clinic at San Mateo Medical Center on Dec. 6 due to a staff shortage, and “strongly recommends” pre-booking an appointment at myturn.ca.gov, the department said on Twitter. Only a limited number of people without an appointment will be able to be vaccinated.
Rogers had a message for the public when it comes to vaccination against COVID-19: Keep it up. It’s important for anyone eligible to be fully vaccinated, she said, and for their boosters to ride the wave of the upcoming omicron variant.
“This is a time when we need resilience and stamina,” she said.