Updated 2 p.m. April 13: The long wait for COVID-19 vaccine eligibility ended this week for all but our region’s youngest members. Santa Clara County quietly revised its online vaccination information Monday night, allowing all residents ages 16 and over to start booking appointments. The county announced Tuesday afternoon that anyone can start receiving the vaccine without waiting until Thursday, the previous deadline for expanded eligibility.
Some locations operated by the county weren’t yet listing online availability Monday night and Tuesday morning, but health department officials said in a 1 p.m. Tuesday press conference that they expected a steady stream of new doses arriving from the federal government. Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county's vaccine director, said they anticipate a "tremendous increase" in the amount of vaccine received each day, which should be reflected in a huge uptick in appointment availability.
The days leading up to this opening saw a scramble of competing interpretations as people tried to make sense of when and how they were permitted to make appointments.
"As of today we’ll have the appointments, people can make those appointments, and start vaccination today," Fenstersheib said.
J&J vaccine hold
Santa Clara County is following federal and state recommendations to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evaluate six cases of what Fenstersheib said were "extremely, extremely rare" blood clotting episodes in people who had received the vaccine. None of the identified cases occurred in California, and all were in women between 18 and 48 years of age. In each case, the women experienced unusual blood clots within one to two weeks after receiving the vaccine, although it is not yet known if the vaccine caused the clots, which also occur at a similar rate among the general population, according to Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Tong. Approximately 62,000 people in California have received the J&J vaccine. People who have received the vaccine within the last two weeks should be aware that blood clot symptoms include severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath.
Dr. Fenstersheib said that people with an upcoming appointment to receive the J&J vaccine will be given either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine instead, and will not have their appointments canceled by the county. He said the single-dose option made up approximately 5% of the county's total vaccine inventory, so its removal is not anticipated to significantly impact appointment availability.
How to make an appointment
Dr. Tong said that the county has already added tens of thousands of new appointment slots and will continue to add more. People can find locations and availability at sccfreevax.org. Those without a computer can call (408) 970-2000. The huge variety of pharmacies and health providers also offering vaccine appointments will each update their online booking systems independently but should, in theory, quickly align with expanded eligibility guidance from the county. Many already-eligible residents have found it difficult to navigate the chaotic system and secure an appointment, but a profusion of homemade search tools aggregate available appointment data and try to make the process slightly less painful.
Mukesh Aggarwal, an engineer who works in Mountain View, created a Telegram channel that monitors appointment availability across a huge variety of regional providers and offers a rolling series of updates to followers (it is free and accessible to all). Residents have been driving to regions of California with vaccine surplus that led to early eligibility expansions, such as Sacramento, Bakersfield or Fresno. UC Davis has been operating a vaccine site in Sacramento with broad appointment availability that is open to all – make a health account with their system to see full available times.
Residents unable to leave their homes for vaccines are being reached via the county’s Mobile In-Home Vaccination Program, which Mountain View firefighters began delivering last week. Email [email protected] for help setting up a visit if you or someone you assist would qualify. And a loose network of independent volunteers have been trading best practices on how to help people schedule appointments via Facebook groups like Bay Area Vaccine Hunters, where local residents ask questions, debate interpretation of eligibility rules and share extremely detailed advice on how to help with vaccine bookings for those with particular needs.
Email [email protected] if you’re helping connect people to appointments and have observations to share, or if you could use some help connecting to these resources yourself.