Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
A vial of the Modern COVID-19 vaccine and syringes on a table at a drive through distribution site at Cal Expo in Sacramento on Jan. 21, 2021.
With so many believing the little glass vials of COVID-19 vaccine are the ticket to a post-pandemic life, people are understandably anxious for their turn to get the shot and, in some cases, frustrated the process isn’t moving more quickly.
It’s also easy to watch news reports of large drive-through vaccination clinics in urban areas of the state and country and to wonder, is little Humboldt County being left behind? Is the local Public Health department getting proportionately as many doses as other areas and are those making their way into residents’ arms as quickly?
The county’s Joint Information Center included vaccination data into its COVID-19 dashboard
this week, indicating that 26,789 doses have been administered locally, with 8.86 percent of the local population now partially vaccinated and 5.42 percent of locals having received both doses and designated as fully vaccinated. But those numbers need some context to really understand how Humboldt County is faring comparatively.
The state launched a vaccination dashboard
this week, showing that it has delivered 10.1 million doses of vaccine to counties and that 8.2 million of those have been administered. The dashboard then breaks down the administered doses by county, so you can see how many shots have been given in every county from Imperial to Del Norte.
Unsurprisingly, the state’s most populace county — Los Angeles — leads the charge, having administered nearly 2 million vaccination doses, while its smallest county — Alpine — brings up the rear with 453 shots given. However, adjusting for population — or looking at doses administered per county resident — gives perhaps a clearer picture of how each county is faring in the race to vaccinate its residents.
By this metric, Humboldt County ranks just about in the dead middle of the state — 28th out of 58 counties — having administered the equivalent of .209 doses per resident. Little Mono County, meanwhile, has proportionately administered the most doses, having given the equivalent of .543 doses per each of its 14,310 residents, while Kings County appears to be having the most trouble getting shots in arms, having administered .083 doses per each of its 150,691 residents.
Mendocino County appears to be faring the best of Humboldt’s neighbors, having given .297 doses per resident, outpacing Trinity County’s .135 doses and Del Norte County’s .119, which is one of the state’s lowest.
While the state has repeatedly stressed equity as a guiding principle in vaccine allocation, there appears to be an economic divide. By the Journal
's analyses, the state's five richest counties by per-capita income — Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, San Francisco and Contra Costa — averaged .255 doses administered per resident, notably better than the statewide average of .208. Meanwhile, the state's poorest counties — Imperial, Madera, Tulare, Merced and Kings — averaged .129 shots given per resident, indicating their residents are getting vaccinated at half the rate of their wealthier counterparts.
Now, there’s a lot this metric doesn’t account for. All counties are at the mercy of the state, which is in turn at the mercy of the federal government, for how many doses they receive. The state has said it is allocating doses based on population but it appears other factors are also considered (as Mono County’s rate would suggest). And the metric only accounts for doses administered, so wouldn’t differentiate a county with an unused stockpile in the freezer and one putting those shots into arms as soon as they are delivered by the state.
There’s also reason to question the accuracy of the date itself. It lists Humboldt County as having administered 28,393 doses — 1,604 more than the county’s dashboard indicates have been given. And Del Norte Health Officer Warren Rehwaldt penned a lengthy letter
to the Del Norte Triplicate
this week detailing a host of frustrations with the vaccine rollout, including discrepancies between state and local data on the number of vaccinations on hand and administered.
But by far the biggest limiting factor in getting people vaccinated remains supply. Humboldt County Public Health announced last week that it has been allocated 4,740 vaccine doses for the coming week. While those doses will be split between first and second doses, they’re enough to fully vaccinate 2,370 people. Unless that allocation rate increases substantially, it would take most of the year to fully vaccinate the county’s adult population.
Currently, the county is vaccinating residents over the age of 70, healthcare workers, teachers and first responders, with food and agricultural workers next up. In a media availability last week, Health Officer Ian Hoffman made clear the speed of the process will depend on supply
“It will depend entirely on the amount of vaccine we have,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful approval of Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine will add to allocations in the coming weeks. “We also know that the federal government has continued to promise to send more. It looks like that is actually starting to happen in the next few weeks, so when we have enough vaccine, we’ll open up to more tiers.”
Looming in the background of all this is the state’s announcement last month that it is revamping its vaccine delivery framework, reconsidering eligibility guidelines, creating a statewide registry and notification system
and instituting sweeping changes that would put it in more direct control of vaccine distribution and administration across all 58 counties.
Specifically, the state intends to “simply eligibility” by pivoting away from the tiered system announced in December in favor of an age-based system and work with a “third party administrator” to build a statewide vaccine delivery network that will allocate doses directly to providers. But much about what this new system will look like and when it will roll out remains unclear.
What is clear, however, is that it seems unlikely to address the biggest impediment to mass vaccination in Humboldt County and everywhere else: available vaccine supply.