STANISLAUS COUNTY, Calif — "We need more vaccine" has been the mantra for Stanislaus County since they started putting coronavirus vaccines into arms. Earlier this week, Governor Gavin Newsom said that they, along with the rest of Central Valley, will be getting just that.
“I’m not some guy from San Francisco that doesn’t give a damn about the Valley," Gov. Newsom said on Monday. "I said I’m not going to let that happen. I know we’re not perfect, and I know we’re not doing everything, but I’m trying to bridge that and I really have.”
To that end, he said the Central Valley will be seeing a 58% increase in vaccines starting this week.
According to Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, head of Emergency Services, the county saw a boost of 1,950 doses from last week. But, to Dirkse, calling it an increase is a bit of a "yes and no" situation.
About 2,100 doses were out of the county's control and specifically earmarked for a new OptumServe vaccination site in West Modesto. That means the county can't use them for their mass vaccination clinics; on top of that, the amount they could use for those clinics was a little less than before.
“The county actually got 150 doses less than the previous week, with the caveat that with the OptumServe site we do get about an additional 2,000. But we’re prepared to keep doing vaccines… We can do 35,000 or 40,000. I don’t need new sites. I need more vaccine,” Dirkse said.
While Stanislaus County's capacity to vaccinate has vastly exceeded their supply for weeks, the additional vaccine brought by the new site is nonetheless appreciated. Last week, Supervisor Vito Chiesa told ABC10 that added vaccine would be a welcome addition.
“As long as we can get more vaccine here, it’s the faster we can open our economy, the faster we can go back to what we consider – I don’t know that we’ll ever see for the six or eight months regular life as it was a year and half ago, but it’ll give some semblance as we continue to move forward,” Chiesa said.
At the start of the week, a number of new changes were highlighted with Stanislaus County's vaccine rollout. Among them, there was an eventual transition to the Blue Shield system and My Turn appointments for the OptumServe site.
It's something of a soft reset for the vaccine rollout, albeit it's one the county wasn't looking to do.
"It’s kind of a State reset, where they’re trying to fix the broken system that they’ve had,” Dirkse said.
“While of course we’re always optimistic, that it will be better," he added. "I’ll tell you, from where we sit, it’s not starting off better.”
Stanislaus County was supposed to be among the first counties starting with the Blue Shield system this week, but plans abruptly changed before that happened. Dirkse said the Blue Shield's implementation has been delayed with few answers as to when it'll take effect. Meanwhile, it's business as usual for vaccine clinics with lingering questions for Blue Shield.
“At this point, we’re not expecting much because we really don’t know much,” Dirkse said.
For OptumServe, their soft opening is off to a good start. Dirkse said there were only nine appointments left for the clinic as of 9 a.m. Wednesday. Once it's in full gear, the site will do about 2,100 vaccinations a week.
But the caveat for the OptumServe site is that it's only for food and agriculture workers, according to Dirkse. He said the county ultimately learned about that restriction via press release and were not told in advance.
My Turn, California's vaccine appointment site, is also online for the OptumServe site in Stanislaus County. Dirkse said My Turn won't be used for appointments at the county's mass vaccination clinics at this time due to concerns with the app.
One of those issues came about on Feb. 10 when a technical error let people make appointments for an Oakdale vaccination clinic on the My Turn App. The Feb. 12 appointments didn't actually exist.
“We had zero intention of ever operating that clinic that day, because we didn’t have the vaccine supply to do it. Yet, My Turn made it available even though it wasn’t even supposed to be open,” Dirkse said.
He said the county is keeping with a simple walk-in model until they're more confident in the My Turn app.
Despite what Dirkse described as a jumbling of plans between counties and the state, the optimism is still there. Case rates are down, ICU availability is higher, and more vaccine is expected to reach the county, even if the question of when is still unanswered.