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More than 80,000 Ventura County residents ages 65 to 74 can now receive COVID vaccinations but limited supplies of vaccine mean it could take months to protect them all, officials announced Tuesday.
And while some counties opened the vaccination door to all seniors in January, Ventura County officials limited inoculations to a high-risk group that includes health care workers and people 75 and older.
That changed Tuesday with vaccinations now expanded to all seniors.
Barry Zimmerman, Ventura County vaccine task force leader, said at a Board of Supervisors meeting that the county had administered the first of two doses to 53% of the area’s seniors 75 and older.
“That is an excellent, excellent penetration,” he said, noting the progress helped trigger the decision to expand eligibility to younger seniors.
County officials previously said the group next in line for vaccinations would be people 65 to 74 who have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious COVID illness.
Instead they opened the door to all people in the age group.
In an email after the meeting, Zimmerman said the county decided it would be difficult to “manage the qualifying factors” in trying to limit vaccinations to people with certain health conditions. He also noted that the entire age group in general is considered at higher risk.
Clinic systems that are providing the vaccines at their sites are being asked to give the shots first to seniors who are at the highest risk, Zimmerman said.
Pipeline problems in delivery of the vaccine from the state to the county continue and will likely mean people may have to wait for vaccination appointments.
“We only get 10,000 maybe 12,000 in a good week,” said Zimmerman of the doses delivered. Officials said requests for more vaccines are made constantly to the state.
At the current rate of delivery, it could take 22 weeks to administer two doses to all of the people currently eligible for vaccines, Zimmerman said.
“We will still have a lot of people we can’t serve until we get more vaccine,” said Supervisor Kelly Long.
Zimmerman also said it’s anticipated the county will move into the next tier of front-line essential workers, including teachers, farmworkers, law enforcement and grocery store workers by the end of March.
A small pilot program involving vaccinating workers at two Santa Clara Valley farms could begin later this week.
A coming boost
Vaccine supplies could increase. Ventura County Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin noted that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has promised a 16% boost in vaccination supplies from the federal government.
A third vaccine provider, Johnson & Johnson, has applied for vaccine approval and a fourth product, from AstraZeneca, could emerge as well.
People can register for appointments at https://www.venturacountyrecovers.org/vaccine-information/portal/. People without access to the internet can call 805-477-7161.
Appointments are directly dependent on vaccine supplies. Zimmerman said Tuesday no more first dose appointments are available for this week.
More slots covering next week are expected to added to the system on Wednesday.
The county is also slated to transition to the state’s My Turn appointment portal on Feb. 22. At that point, people may be able to make appointments through the end of March, Zimmerman said.
The county also continues to add more appointment-only vaccination sites. A location could be opened later this week at 2340 N. Rose Ave. in Oxnard. Another site is expected later this month at 5100 Adolfo Road in Camarillo.
Other sites are planned for Santa Paula, Camarillo, Oxnard and Simi Valley. Private clinic systems, including Clinicas del Camino Real and the Community Memorial Centers for Family Health, will also partner with the county to offer vaccinations.
Vaccinations are also being offered by pharmacies that are teaming up with the county.
Second wave of doses
The county is also vaccinating a wave of people who received their first doses in January and are now due their second doses. The area’s biggest vaccination site, the Ventura County Fairgrounds, is temporarily being used exclusively for second doses.
Zimmerman said that as of Monday nearly 99,000 doses of vaccine had been administered in the county. He said he was told the county has the 12th highest volume of vaccine being administered in California.
Levin told supervisors that the vaccines are believed to be effective against the UK variant of the virus that is being found in an increasing rate across the state and nation.
It’s feared the variant could become the dominant strain in some regions, Levin said, adding it could be 30% more contagious than the Wuhan strain.
Last month, very small samples of two COVID-19 mutations were found in an Oxnard sewage study that looks for evidence of the virus in human waste.
Both mutations are among the many found in the UK strain. Levin said the county is still awaiting lab results to determine whether the discovered mutations are indeed the strain that emerged in England.
“Variants will inevitably come to Ventura County but the vaccines we have appear to be protective,” he said.
Levin said samples taken a week ago from the Oxnard sewage project also showed less evidence of one of the two mutations and no new evidence of the second.
It’s unlikely the mutations have disappeared permanently but the diminished presence is good news, Levin said.
“This buys us a few weeks or maybe months and maybe by then we’ll have given out enough vaccine to make this a moot (point),” Levin said.
Ventura County Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas told the Board of Supervisors the county’s COVID metrics continue to improve. As of Monday, 263 people with COVID required hospital care — down from a peak of 449 in January.
The positivity rate and the number of cases are also falling, said Vargas.
State data released showed the county’s unadjusted COVID case rate fell from an average of 80 cases a day per 100,00 population to 62 cases a day for the week ending Jan. 30.
That rate was still the highest in California.
The county’s COVID testing rate — an average of 800 tests a day per 100,000 people — is among the state’s best. Officials say the high level of testing is a partial explanation for the high case rate.
Vargas reported five more deaths Tuesday linked to the virus, bringing the county’s total to 683.
Witness to ‘horrible reality’
Supervisor Carmen Ramirez announced at the board meeting that her brother, Ricardo Ramirez, died from the virus. He was a 64-year-old retired electrician and an Army veteran who lived on his boat in the Channel Islands Harbor.
He was “generous, kind, loving and cared about his family and our world,” she said in an email.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting, she said the death devastated her family.
“To those who think this isn’t real, I’m a witness to the horrible reality of it,” she said, elaborating on the point in an email. “I just want to wake up in the morning and think it was nightmare. And he will still come through my front door to get his mail.”
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at [email protected] or 805-437-0255.
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