Jessica Cejnar / Thursday, Feb. 4 @ 3:41 p.m.

Huffman Town Hall Addresses Vaccine Shortages In Humboldt, Mendocino; Rehwaldt Discusses Shot Distribution In Del Norte

Vaccinating 100 million people against COVID-19 is the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s goals for the first 100 days of his term, but supply shortages hinder efforts in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte County.

At a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday, Congressman Jared Huffman discussed actions at the federal level to expedite vaccine distribution.

These actions include establishing federal vaccination centers as well as mobile clinics that can reach rural and underserved areas; relaxing the rules so people qualified to give shots can go across state lines; and using the Defense Production Act to address shortages in personal protective equipment.

“It is still going to take awhile to fix the supply shortage,” Huffman told constituents. “My hope is that the new plan to provide at least three weeks lead time to states and local governments and others is already starting to make a difference in terms of planning and answering questions from frustrated constituents.”

Del Norte County, like Humboldt and Mendocino, has finished vaccinating healthcare workers, people in the Phase 1a category, to those in Phase 1b, which include seniors.

In Mendocino, where 11,163 people have received their inoculations, most teachers and school staff have received their shots, said Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren. Mendocino public health officials are also vaccinating those who are older than 75 years old, working through hospital clinics and medical providers to reach their patients.

Humboldt County is also working with older seniors as well as first responders and staff working in K12 schools, Public Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman said. The county has had 15,000 responses to an online interest form and has staff manning the phones to reach those who don't have internet.

Humboldt County has received 17,500 vaccines and have administered about 16,000 doses, according to Hoffman.

“We’re waiting for more vaccine,” he said. “We’re hopeful when we get it to open up to more people.”

Del Norte County’s weekly vaccine allotment is about 300, enough for 150 people to receive either their first or second dose, Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. Between the Phase 1a and 1b categories, 7,000 to 8,000 people need to be vaccinated — that will take some time, he said.

“It’s allocated based principally on our population and then part of it too, at the very beginning, was what is your capacity.” Rehwaldt said, referring to the county’s ability to store either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. “We did get our Pfizer allocation, but it was carved out of a shared portion of what was sent to Humboldt. We’ve used up almost all of that.”

The Del Norte Public Health Branch administered more than 200 vaccines to people in the Phase 1a category during a drive-through clinic last week and plan a similar event for those in Phase 1b.

Rehwaldt said public health staff plan to hold clinics every two weeks, stepping them up if Del Norte gets more vaccine and dialing it back if the county gets less.

All three counties, including Del Norte, plan to take part in the state’s My Turn web-based vaccine enrollment program. Local public health staff have worked with state officials, letting them know how they’re handling vaccine deployment and how it’s working for the supply of vaccine they have on hand.

Rehwaldt said Del Norte County will likely be included in the My Turn program in March. At that point, those receiving their first vaccine over the weekend will be due for their second dose.

Huffman’s town hall meeting also included input from Dr. Heather Nye, associate chief of medicine at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

The Veterans Affairs Community-based Outpatient Clinic in Eureka began vaccinating its patients last week, starting at 30 doses, Nye said. The San Francisco VA Medical Center has received 500 doses a week to divvy up amongst its 60 clinics, including Santa Rosa, Ukiah and Clear Lake. VA officials are urging those who are over 75 years old to get their vaccinations scheduled, she said.

“We could be vaccinating 2,000 veterans a week between all of our sites,” she said. “We just need the doses.”

During the meeting, Huffman fielded questions from constituents about COVID-19 variants. There are four major mutations, though they haven't all shown themselves in the U.S., Coren said. These include a United Kingdom mutation that’s proved to be more easily transmissible, a South African version, a variant from Brazil and one detected in California.

According to Coren, the South African variant may be more aggressive and resistant to the vaccine than the original COVID-19 virus. There isn’t much known yet about the Brazil and California mutations.

“The state is embarking on genome analysis to be sure which ones are here and if there are any new (variants) coming up,” Coren said.

When asked about whether local concern exists about new COVID-19 variants showing up in Del Norte County, Rehwaldt said the public health lab that’s local to the area is still learning how to do genomic sequencing for virus mutations. He noted that new variations of the COVID-19 virus has shown up in the southern part of the state, but they could make their way north.

“I’m not particularly worried at the moment,” Rehwaldt said. “I’m more worried about the impact on California as a whole. It could create another surge. A spring surge would be very unfortunate just coming off the fall and winter surge. Things look a little bit better statewide and locally it would be unfortunate to have something else change the numbers again.”

In Del Norte County, two new cases were reported to the Public Health Branch on Wednesday for a total of 26 active cases. Between Jan. 24-30 the county had eight active cases and between Jan. 17-23, there were 16 active cases.

Del Norte County is in the most restrictive Purple Tier on the state’s color-coded Blueprint for a Safer Economy, something that’s assigned based on data, Rehwaldt said. State officials will tell county officials when it’s safe to relax safety measures, he said.

“There’s a good chance we could move into the red tier in the next week or two,” Rehwaldt told the Outpost, though he didn’t want to “pin a date on it.” “Our case numbers, they’ve been up and down, but generally they’re on the much lower end of where we were a month and a half ago. Things are looking potentially very good for moving up the tiers. That would be a good thing for the community.”


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