County officials stress vaccinating those 65+ before moving forward with other groups, blaming vaccine shortage on State

February 9, 2021 /

The Kern County Board of Supervisors stressed vaccinating those 65 and older before moving on to other groups in California’s vaccination plan.

According to the Kern County Public Health department, those next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine include educators, child care workers, emergency service workers and agricultural workers. However, the California Department of Public Health said these groups are eligible for vaccination “as supplies allow.”

“This has led to confusion state-wide,” Kern Pubic Health Assistant Director Brynn Carrigan said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “When demand subsides in (eligible) groups, they will move onto other groups.”

The problem, County officials say, is the state is not distributing enough vaccines to Kern.

“Unfortunately, the supply is just not there,” said Carrigan.

Kern County has the capacity to administer 45,000 vaccines per week with private clinics and the County’s mass vaccination site, but the State is only delivering between 6,000 to 8,000 vaccines to Kern each week, according to Carrigan.

This is why County officials are stressing the importance of vaccinating those 65 and older before moving forward to vaccinating other groups in Phase 1B of the state vaccination plan. Data shows 67 percent of Kern’s COVID-19 deaths are individuals who were 65 and older. The CDC also states that 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. are adults 65 and older and that this population at significantly higher risk of hospitalization and death than younger age groups.    

“Until we get more vaccines from the state, I think we have to stay the course and vaccinate those who are 65 and older,” said Supervisor Mike Maggard. “We have concluded that to vaccinate those that are outside of the 65 and older category is to doom someone in that category to death.”

However, other Counties throughout the state have moved forward with vaccinating other groups in Phase 1B of the State’s vaccination plan.

In January, multiple news sources reported farmworkers in Fresno County began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Vaccinating our essential farm workers will ensure the safety of their workplaces, their homes, their families, our food supply and the vital services that they perform,” Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco told ABC 30.

Fresno County set aside enough doses from the state to vaccinate 3,000 essential agriculture workers, but officials said that will hardly make a dent in the agriculture community, which has between 70,000 to 90,000 people working in this sector.

When Kern Sol News asked Public Health officials in the past when agriculture workers will be eligible to receive the vaccine, health officials said they did not know when that would occur.

In Kern County, there are an estimated 146,000 people who are in Phase 1a or who are 65 years of age and older. 

“While other counties may have moved on to include other priority populations in their eligible groups, Kern County has only received enough vaccines to cover a small portion of the existing priority populations,” said Michelle Corson, the public information officer for the Kern County Public Health Department. “We are anxious to vaccinate our farmworkers and everyone else in our community.”

Supervisor Zack Scrivner agreed with Maggard at Tuesday’s meeting regarding prioritizing individuals 65 and older. Scrivner said this group is most at risk; has a higher chance of not surviving the virus; and is more likely to end up in the hospital, impacting local hospitals.

Maggard and Scrivner mentioned Tuesday the frustration among other groups in Phase 1B, such as educators, first responders and agricultural workers.

“I understand teachers want to be vaccinated and frontline workers…but with the supply we have, we have to vaccinate those at higher risk,” said Scrivner.

Carrigan said Tuesday Kern has received 72,900 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, and the state reports 64,334 of these vaccines have been administered. The state has not accounted for about 2,000 vaccines administer by Public Health, according to Carrigan.

The Kern County Public Health Department confirmed Tuesday 665 new cases of COVID-19 in Kern, bringing the total to 98,187 cases. Health officials also announced one more COVID-19 death, bringing the total number of deaths to 660.

“We know the case rate is going down,” said Carrigan. “We think we are on the tale end of the winder surge, but now is not the time to let our guard down.”

Featured photo: The Covid-19 indoor vaccination facility at the Kern County Fair Grounds has been operating but an outdoor drive through facility has been built at the Fair Grounds and will greatly increase the capacity to vaccinate when it opens. A huge next step at the facility will be the opening of a 14 lane drive through vaccination that will greatly increase the number of people that will be able to be vaccinated when it opens. Currently a walk up indoor site is serving to vaccinate people at the Kern County Fairgrounds. Photos by Freelance photojournalist, Henry A. Barrios

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at elizabeth@southkernsol.org.