S. E. Williams |

A little more than a week ago as the virus continued to surge in the region, inland area county officials announced COVID-19 vaccinations were being made available to  area residents aged 65 and over.

At the time, San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman said, “We know that our seniors are the most vulnerable to serious illness and death if they contract COVID-19 and we want to get them vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

He did, however, qualify the announcement adding, “We ask the community for patience as we continue to receive doses from the State of California to serve our senior population and as we continue to vaccinate health care workers.”

This action in both counties followed a January 12 change by the administration of former President Donald J. Trump to expand the pool of citizens able to receive vaccinations to jump start the vaccine rollout and expedite vaccine administration.  

San Bernardino County acknowledged January 14 vaccine supplies from the state were scarce and as a result, appointments were limited.

Riverside and San Bernardino Counties like other municipalities around the country knew, as noted above, the vaccine supply was scarce and appointments limited and it did not take long for those in the community anxious to receive the vaccine experience difficulty securing appointments.

In Riverside County the backup was exacerbated by residents having trouble accessing the website to schedule appointments.

Pictured: Juan C. Perez, County of Riverside Interim Executive Officer.

As the County’s IT team worked furiously to resolve the technical glitches, Interim Executive Officer Juan C. Perez issued a statement acknowledging, “Residents are understandably frustrated that the appointment website did not perform . . .”  He went on to lay the blame at the feet of the vendor who failed to deliver on its commitment to have the system up and running on Thursday. “We apologize for this unfortunate situation and will soon direct residents to a new website.” 

Marie Southall made several attempts to schedule an appointment before giving up. “I expected there would be a challenge with so many of us over the age of 65 trying to get appointments right away, but it was frustrating and impossible.”

She continued, “By the time you get to be my age, most of us have some kind of underlying condition, so we’re  anxious to get vaccinated and though I am nervous about taking it, I’m more afraid of getting the virus. You would think since the county’s had more than nine months to prepare for this, they would have had a better plan. This whole thing is just a mess. The county doesn’t seem to have its act together and then to top it off, from what I hear, there isn’t enough vaccine to go around anyway.”

The County committed to change the website it used to make vaccination appointments and officials are expected to announce the new website soon. 

On Friday, Riverside reported 2,544 new cases of COVID-19 and 38 additional deaths. The same day in San Bernardino County  there were 3,257 newly confirmed cases of the virus and 18 additional deaths.

Though vaccine doses in San Bernardino County are also in short supply, residents aged 65 and over can make appointments online at sbcovid19.com/vaccine. Seniors can also sign up for email and text notifications to receive alerts about vaccination opportunities and other vaccination news through the “65+ Vaccine Notification Sign Up” link here. Those who need assistance with appointments or signing up for notifications can call the COVID-19 hotline from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at (909) 387-3911.

Statewide Issues

On Monday, January 18, California became the first state in the nation to reach three million cases of COVID-19. And, in other vaccine related news, the LA Times reported Thursday how a series of data collection problems have left California officials unable to offer clear evidence of success or failure of the state’s vaccination efforts noting how coding errors and data lags have impeded the state’s efforts to accurately count and publicly report how many doses are administered each day.

The sluggish roll-out has resulted in thousands of doses waiting to be distributed despite many in the public having a frantic desire to be vaccinated.

Over the last week, the state identified a data coding error from a major provider of COVID-19 vaccines. The magnitude of the underreporting remained unclear as of Wednesday. Even more concerning, however, is the problem with this provider was not the only issue. Reporting delays with data from other providers of up to 96 hours between when a dose was given and when it showed up in the California immunization system, was also discovered by state officials.

Pictured: Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access CA

“This vaccine distribution is being jerry-rigged on a famously fragmented health system and underfunded public health infrastructure, which produces inconsistencies county by county and provider by provider but also problems with getting timely data to see how California as a whole is doing,” Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California and a member of the state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee told the Times. “This data is critical to know not just how efficient but equitable and effective California’s efforts have been, and where we need to close gaps.”

The report further highlighted how the delay in vaccine distribution is partially the result of problems with the state’s immunization registry. According to a group representing counties around the state some jurisdictions are being forced to re enter data multiple times because the system kept rejecting their input.

“State and local health officials need to see how much vaccine a healthcare provider or a local health department has on hand in order to know if they need more,” said Kat DeBurgh, Executive Director of the Health Officers Assn. of California, part of the statewide group that raised the issue to Governor Newsom in a letter. She continued, “[W]ithout seeing how many doses have been given, we do not know how many more doses we need.”

Further adding to the vaccine confusion was Governor Newsom’s recommendation to local officials statewide to ease restrictions on who qualifies for vaccinations. With limited supplies and high senior demand, opening the door to subjective prioritization while so many seniors remain in the pipeline waiting to get vaccinated seems ripe for conflict and misinterpretation.

On Friday, the State of California launched its much-anticipated website, MyTurn, where you can register to be notified when it’s your turn to get the COVID-19 vaccination.  For now, however, the site is only working with Los Angeles County. Health workers and people in the county over 65 can use the site to schedule an appointment. Residents in Riverside, San Bernardino, and other counties in the state can still go online and fill out the form so when the system is more broadly operational you will already be registered.

On the website, there are instructions for those who have difficulty registering or do not have an email address or mobile phone, to call the CA COVID-19 Hotline at 1 (833) 422-4255 for assistance.

S. E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.