Moderna Covid-19 vaccine (John S. Choi/SVMH)

MONTEREY COUNTY — More Covid-19 vaccines have arrived in Monterey County as planning begins for the next priority tiers for vaccinations, including those who are age 65 and older as announced by the state this week.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is prioritizing residents age 65-plus to receive the vaccine as demand subsides among health care workers. However, those in Phase 1A — health care workers and long-term care residents — remain the highest priority to receive vaccines.

“Demand for the vaccines continues to exceed supply,” said Karen Smith, public information officer for the Monterey County Health Department.

Monterey County is continuing to vaccinate health care workers in Phase 1A of Tiers 1, 2 and 3, as the vaccine remains in limited supply. The county’s current inventory has been dedicated to the health care worker immunization clinics occurring this week.

“When there is enough vaccine to expand vaccination options, Monterey County will share that information widely along with when and how those who are eligible can get vaccinated,” Smith said. “The Monterey County Health Department has been working for the last few months preparing for this aspect of vaccine rollout, including making plans for mass vaccination clinics.”

According to Smith, the county is working in partnership with local health care providers to make vaccination opportunities available to those who are age 65 and older.

“Please continue to practice Covid-19 prevention measures, such as staying home as much as possible, wearing a face covering and practicing physical distancing,” she advised.

Monterey County Health Department is hosting an informational town hall about Covid-19 vaccines on Thursday, Jan. 14, at 5:30 p.m. through Zoom.

The town hall is an opportunity for the public to learn more about the vaccine, how the vaccine is received and how the vaccine is being rolled out to groups. Spanish translation will be available.

The link to the meeting can be found at the health department’s vaccine information site:

Infection rates climb as vaccinations continue

Monterey County had a total of 17,075 vaccine doses as of last week, according to Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s health officer.

“Our clinic services staff have begun to receive their vaccines this week,” Moreno said in a press briefing Jan. 6. “I’m very glad that our primary care health care providers are beginning to get protected with the vaccine.”

Moreno noted the county placed another order for its next allocation late last week.

The vaccinations have arrived as the county remains under a regional stay-at-home order as cases continue to rise.

“We are still seeing an increase for the case rate here in Monterey County,” Moreno said.

A recent hospital census completed in early January showed 204 total Covid-19 patients at the county’s four hospitals.

“It was approximately 100 in the first and second week of December and now it’s twice as high,” Moreno said. “The rate of Covid hospitalizations has increased drastically. We’re over 200 here now for several days and that’s an indication that there’s still a lot of transmission … cases are going up and also hospitalizations are also going up.”

Because of the climbing infection rates, Moreno urged the community to continue to remain home and only go outside for urgent business as the primary effort to combat infection.

Any progress toward reopening and the state lifting the regional stay-at-home order would come as a result of assessments, particularly projection of the county’s estimated ICU capacity for a range of four weeks.

“If they find that our ICU capacity is not going to be improving, the regional stay-at-home order will continue to be in effect for Monterey County and in the Bay Area region,” Moreno said.

Moreno explained that there are several factors the state considers to determine ICU capacity. One is estimated ICU capacity availability, another is a measure of current community transmission, estimates on how many more people will become infected and current regional case rates and proportion of those cases being admitted to ICUs.

The county has implemented Phase 1A for vaccinations as well as Phase 1B, both of which include frontline and medical workers. Vaccinations have recently been extended to EMT and firefighter personnel, with dialysis center staff expected to get their vaccines soon.

Moreno said the county is planning on moving to the second tier of vaccine priority groups, which would include health workers, mental health employees making home visits and mental health clients. He said the county could soon make moves toward a third tier of priority patients.

“As we move forward, we will continue to work with partnering agencies to have vaccinators,” Moreno said. “We have also been encouraged by the State of California to move on to Tier 3 as long as we’re making progress with Tier 1 and Tier 2. … We don’t have to vaccinate everyone in Tier 1 and Tier 2 to get to Tier 3.”

Such a third tier could include specialty clinics, laboratories, mortuaries, dental offices and pharmacies.

However, Moreno said direction from the state is unclear how to precisely move further in the priority tiers, meaning the county will have to make plans on progress.

“One of the things we really want to do is get as many people in Phase 1A vaccinated before we move into 1B,” Moreno said. “The first tier in 1B is individuals age 75 and older and any individuals at risk at their work sites, such as education, child care, emergency services.”

Ryan Cronk contributed to this article.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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