Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Oct. 25 @ 3:42 p.m. / COVID-19, Health, Local Government
Faced With Angry Constituents, Del Norte Supervisors Do an Incomplete 180 on COVID Vaccines
Three Del Norte County supervisors buckled in the face of 14 constituents Tuesday who argued that even the uninsured deserved to get the COVID jab if they wanted it.
But they urged the residents who heckled what they didn’t like hearing and applauded when the decision went their way to pressure other elected bodies considering whether or not to participate in the Bridge Access Program.
“I encourage the same audience here today to also go to the other organizations you guys provide taxes to — in this case the Healthcare District — to implement the same program we have access to if there are truly 2,200 individuals in our community that don’t have access to this COVID vaccine,” District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard said. “It’s not just our responsibility, it’s everybody’s responsibility.”
Howard joined supervisors Joey Borges, Darrin Short and Valerie Starkey in approving Del Norte County’s participation in the state-administered program that provides COVID shots to adults who don’t have insurance.
District 5 Supervisor Dean Wilson voted against the county’s participation agreement with the California Department of Public Health, though he joined the unanimous decision to suspend Rosenberg’s Rules of Order to rehash the COVID discussion.
Wilson had pulled the item from the consent agenda on Sept. 26 for discussion, stating he disapproved of the continued use of an “experimental.” At that meeting, Starkey’s motion to participate in the program died when no one would second it.
At the Board’s Oct. 10 meeting, 11 members of the public urged supervisors to reconsider their decision with Starkey stating that the Bridge Access Program would provide access to the COVID vaccine for about 2,200 residents who don’t have health insurance.
On Tuesday, however, Health and Human Services Director Ranell Brown said the county would only receive 230 COVID-19 vaccine doses through the Bridge Access Program. The statistic that 2,200 people in the county, about 8.6 percent of its population, are uninsured comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.
CDPH didn’t explain the methodology they used to allocate those 230 doses to Del Norte, Brown said. Del Norte County is required to serve 138 people according to its Vaccine Equity Plan, Brown said.
“We would utilize other funding to purchase those vaccines if we’re not participating in this program,” she told supervisors.
Del Norte County is under contract with CDPH to provide vaccines to residents through an umbrella program called the Immunization Access Program, Public Health Nursing Director Shelby Bodenstab told supervisors. This program ensures children receive immunizations and residents are protected against the flu every year.
The Bridge Access Program would be housed under that Immunization Access Program umbrella, Bodenstab said.
Other agencies in Del Norte County can agree to participate in the Bridge Access Program, Brown said. This includes the Del Norte Healthcare District, which is a special district represented by an elected Board of Directors.
“We have reached out to those to gauge where they’re at,” Brown told supervisors. “To date, none of them are enrolled or participating. They are still considering. They have time to do that, however the allocation amounts may change.”
CVS Pharmacy is also interested in participating in the Bridge Access Program, but are still working out administrative and billing issues, Brown said.
“There are other providers within the community that are eligible and interested in participating, however they are not yet enrolled,” she said.
According to Howard, who wanted to shed some light “on this that wasn’t allowed during the non-discussion,” United Indian Health Services and Open Door Clinic can also participate in the Bridge Access Program.
“I’m hoping we can have the discussion in front of everybody today because it seems as if this piece has fallen on the sole responsibility of the county to administer,” he said. “And it shouldn’t fall solely on the county to administer.”
The Board of Supervisors changed its tune after roughly 14 residents urged them to at least grant people the choice of getting the COVID shot if they wanted it — pointing out that the state was providing the vaccines at no cost to the county.
Dana Gill, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Crescent City, appeared at the podium masked. Mother to a 4-year-old “germ factory” and living with multiple autoimmune diseases, Gill said one way of ensuring she stays healthy is making sure her son is up to date with his shots.
But, Gill said, while her child’s pediatrician, who is in Oregon, has ordered his vaccine, it’s not yet available. CVS offers vaccines to young children at its Minute Clinics, but the closest is in San Francisco. No other pharmacies are offering COVID shots for young children, Gill said.
“Without giving the Department of Public Health access to these free vaccines, you are forcing me to take three days off from work and drive him to San Francisco just to get him vaccinated,” she said, “so that I can continue to work and contribute to the economy here in Del Norte and be a good, loving, caring, providing mother.”
Christian York, who had been an IT director for Del Norte Unified School District and a teacher, said he’s not a doctor, a virologist or an immunologist. He said the Board of Supervisors deciding to reject the Bridge Access Program “based on nothing except an opinion” was disturbing.
“We have a program that is free, that is going to address a known program and will give options to people who don’t have them,” York said. “And the fact that the Board is not considering allowing that access is not rational. It offends my science teacher background.”
Candace Tinkler also acknowledged that she’s not a scientist or a doctor and leaves even the cutting of her hair up to the experts. Yet she said that her grandparents were the only people in the small mining town of Jerome, Arizona, to allow their son to be vaccinated against smallpox “for better or for worse.”
Tinkler said she also grew up with a classmate who had polio and was the only child in her class that didn’t get vaccinated.
“I feel so strongly that if we can’t offer the safety of this vaccine to all then we are really falling short of ourselves as a community,” Tinkler said. “Because all we’re really doing is paving the way, sometimes literally with roads, for a greater world for our children.”
Another commenter, Dave Powell, said he’s not a fan of the COVID shot, but advocated for allowing residents to decide whether it’s right for them.
“The operative word is choice,” he said. “People should have that choice especially if it’s free.”