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State Changes Could Negatively Impact Local COVID Vaccine Distribution

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Sonora, CA — There were both positives, and concerns, voiced about the local response to COVID-19 at today’s Tuolumne County Supervisors meeting.

First, the positives. Health and Human Services Director Rebecca Espino opened by stating, “We are excited to report that the trend of COVID-19 cases, and hospitalizations, continue to decline. We are also excited to report that it has been 45 short days since receiving our first batch of vaccine, and already over 10-percent of our community has been vaccinated.”

She continued, “Vaccine clinics are occurring every week and we are confident, if we receive a steady flow of vaccine, this percentage could substantially increase in the upcoming 45 days.”

Interim Health Officer Dr. Eric Sergienko noted that cases have been falling over the past couple of weeks after seeing a surge around the holidays that resulted in 10 county deaths. He did say, however, there is still a way to go before dropping from the current purple tier to the less severe red tier.

Dr. Sergienko also indicated he is pleased that the vaccine seems to be successful in fending off the more contagious variants discovered out of South Africa and the United Kingdom, but he is more concerned about a Brazilian variant because there seems to be less immunity. He reiterated that mass vaccination will help knock down the virus across the community.

Related to COVID response, Dr. Alexander Heard, Operations Chief at Adventist Health Sonora, said that things are currently in “fairly good shape.” There are three active COVID-19 patients in the hospital today, and three additional who have “exited the active stage.” He stated there is capacity in the ICU, and staffing, to meet the needs.

While vaccine distribution is progressing, Dr. Sergienko says a big concern is a proposed contract between the Governor and Blue Shield of California to facilitate the administration and allocation of vaccines. It would represent a big shift in the current vaccine distribution plan.

Dr. Sergienko added, “The concern with this is the role of local health jurisdictions in directing the allocations of those vaccines.”

He fears that local public health departments could be “cut out” of the distribution system. A third party at the state level does not know the local communities or have the partnerships in place, and this could slow the delivery of the vaccines, especially in the more rural areas of the state.

Supervisor Anaiah Kirk was notably upset about it, adding, “This is basically Gavin Newsom micromanaging the hell out this and looking at you and saying your opinion doesn’t matter and your region doesn’t matter.”

Many of the surrounding counties are banding together to raise concerns about this issue, and the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors are planning to draft a letter requesting continued local control of vaccine distribution.