West County Health Centers (WCHC) debuts two COVID-19 community vaccination clinics this week, at Guerneville Elementary School in Guerneville and at Analy High School in Sebastopol, according to a Jan. 29 WCHC press release.
Those who live or work in west Sonoma County, as well as patients of West County Health Centers and other west county-based medical providers can receive free COVID-19 vaccinations at the sites if they are 75 or older, the nonprofit’s website said on its “COVID-19 Vaccine” page.
Undocumented community members who fit the state and county criteria are eligible for the vaccines, according to WCHC Chief Executive Officer and physician Jason Cunningham.
He recommended people first read information regarding eligibility criteria and zip codes on the “COVID-19 Vaccine” webpage before registering for an appointment through the scheduler linked there. The “COVID-19 Vaccine” webpage can be accessed at this link: https://www.wchealth.org/news/covid-19-vaccine/
Starting Feb. 3, WCHC will post appointment openings every Wednesday by 8 p.m. for the following week, since Wednesdays are when the organization will receive its weekly vaccine allocation from the county, Cunningham said. The sites will offer vaccinations Mondays through Saturdays, so this Wednesday, eligible county residents can sign up for their first dose on Monday, Feb. 8 to Saturday, Feb. 13, he said.
The Jan. 29 press release said those seeking vaccination at the clinics will need to show some form of verification of their eligibility, what Cunningham described as “a good faith effort.” This could be a home or work address in the zip codes that qualify, work identification or a letter from one’s primary care provider in west county, he said.
“We’re going to do the best we can to make this a fair and honest system, but it is also not going to be contentious. Our goal is not to be a police force, our goal is to make sure that we’re safeguarding this resource for the west county,” Cunningham said.
Vaccine availability, trouble-shooting vaccination scheduling
The nonprofit schedules patients online with PrepMod, a vaccine appointment scheduling tool currently used by the state, but Cunningham said WCHC will hopefully update to using the MyTurn system soon.
Patients should watch out for outdated information on PrepMod that WCHC has no control over, such as a message in bold red letters that says clinics are only open for individuals eligible under Phase 1a when the county has actually started Phase 1b, he said.
The county-level rollout information hasn’t been the most consistent, according to Cunningham, nodding to the recent reversal around offering vaccines to educators and childcare workers ages 65 and older.
WCHC’s vaccine webpage includes an acknowledgement that reads “Note: Vaccination for Educators/childcare > 65 have been paused according to Sonoma County Health Department as of 1/30/21. Only current appointments will be honored until further notice.”
Eligibility that currently focuses on 75 and older residents could change again in a matter of days, so the website will be updated to keep in step with state and county criteria, Cunningham said. He asks for patience from residents who are appropriately eager to get vaccinated.
“I think the biggest thing that we’re concerned about is that people help us follow the criteria of who’s eligible and recognizing that we are all valued, and also that we will be trying to manage that as best we can. And so, when we manage that, we may be turning people away who’ve signed up who are not eligible,” he said.
According to Cunningham, PrepMod does not block people from registering for an appointment even if they aren’t eligible yet, taking spots currently to be reserved for people ages 75 and older. The organization calls down the list to ensure people meet the age requirement and will cancel appointments of those who do not, he said.
The WCHC CEO said the school clinics are planned to conduct about 40 vaccinations an hour during its first week, or 260 each day, as the operation alternates between Guerneville Elementary School and Analy High every other day.
But the number of vaccinations WCHC can administer per hour and per day is subject to change each week. “The exact number will depend on how many vaccines we get, week by week, and how much demand we have for those vaccines. Our goal is to optimize as much as we can,” Cunningham said.
He said the organization is working hard to not vaccinate “out of turn,” and is consulting the county to decide who to vaccinate if at some point the clinics have more space than people 75 and older scheduled for a dose.
“We cannot waste any shot at all, so we’ll be managing a waitlist, but we’ll be managing to the last shot that we aren’t providing more space than we have demand for,” he said. “So, if it turns out there’s only 180 people who signed up and that’s all we’re going to manage, that’s all we’re going to give.”
According to the Jan. 29 press release, the number of vaccines the county disperses each week will determine the operating hours at either Guerneville Elementary or Analy High. Whether patients receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine will also depend on what the county gives WCHC for the week, Cunningham said, while the first week’s doses will be the Pfizer vaccine.
What you can expect getting your COVID-19 shot at the community vaccination clinics
Community members with emailed confirmation will park at the school and walk up to the site where someone will greet them and determine based on various risk factors if they must wait 15 or 30 minutes after their shot in case of a rare allergic reaction, Cunningham said.
He said a medical provider present would answer any questions and after individuals receive their vaccine, they will wait in a gym with others socially distanced by at least 10 feet under a nurse’s watch for any reactions that would be managed at a designated clinic area.
Patients will receive a link to set up a second appointment for their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine when they check out afterwards, Cunningham said.
According to WCHC’s online vaccine information, the community vaccination clinics will be accessible to people with physical disabilities and have bilingual and bicultural staff.
Moving forward, Cunningham said WCHC will be working with community leaders on potential solutions for communities in more rural areas like Jenner, Bodega and Annapolis if getting to Guerneville and Sebastopol for vaccination prove to be a struggle.
The mass vaccination effort is “incredibly stressful” but a joy and a privilege to be a part of, according to Cunningham. “I mean, as you can imagine, all of us are affected by COVID-19, and to be able to offer this very tangible support, it’s lots of tears of joy and support.” he said.
He continued, “As a physician, because I’m a family doc, providing a vaccination site to our community with support from our community, to provide a resource to get out of COVID-19, it can’t get any better. It is just what we got into healthcare for. It’s what we went to medical school for.”
The use of the two schools as clinics comes from a joint effort between WCHC and community leads like the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and the Sonoma County Office of Education, according to the press release.
Anyone interested in donating to aid these efforts can do so online at https://www.wchealth.org/help/donations/ or mail checks to West County Health Centers, PO Box 1449, Guerneville, CA 95446.
Editor's note: This article was update on Feb. 1 following an additional interview about the vaccination clinics.