With fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses available the next two weeks and significantly more people soon eligible to take them, many Bay Area residents will be heading outside the region to score their life-saving shots.
But will those who traveled to great lengths for their first doses when appointments were hard to come by find their second shots closer to home?
Most Bay Area counties, health care providers and pharmacies are allowing people to book second-dose appointments even if they received their first shots elsewhere. Because of the limited vaccine supply, however, that’s easier said than done for some people.
To get his first dose, Neil Pomerleau, 29, of Mountain View, drove 200 miles south on April 2 to a vaccination site in Tulare — a small city halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield. The vaccine clinic had already opened up appointments back then to all adults 16 and older, which is what California plans to do statewide starting Thursday.
Though Pomerleau scheduled a second-dose appointment for the same site, he was hoping to book the next shot closer to home so he doesn’t have to make the long trek again.
But as his second-dose appointment on April 23 nears, it’s “starting to seem easier to just drive out there again,” he said.
“It’s a long drive, and of course it would be nice to find something closer, but we had such a positive experience in Tulare that I wouldn’t mind making a return trip,” he said. “Whatever it takes to stay safe and bring our community one step closer to normal.”
As long as there are appointments available, Sutter Health and Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties say they’ll welcome anyone who has already received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose to book an appointment through their public health clinics for a second shot. Contra Costa County, which has already opened up appointments to anyone 16 or older, has about 5,000 available appointments this week.
Still, they cannot guarantee that everyone will be able to receive their second-dose appointment in the time interval recommended by the manufacturer of the vaccine they received for their first dose.
Pomerleau, for instance, called Santa Clara County to explain his situation, but the next available second-dose appointment it could offer him was 27 days after his first dose rather than the 21-day interval recommended by Pfizer.
But Maria Vaughn, 57, of Santa Clara County, had better luck switching her second-dose appointment. After getting a shot at a clinic in San Leandro last month, Vaughn managed to get an appointment through her provider, Stanford Health Care, just minutes from home on Monday and canceled her other appointment across the bay.
“It was really convenient and nice not to have to drive for an hour,” she said.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, health officials are instructing residents to return to the same place where they received their first dose or reach out to their health care provider or a pharmacy about a second-dose appointment in their home county.
“They should not contact or drop into an alternate healthcare provider to schedule a second dose appointment if they did not receive their first dose at the same location,” Parisa Safarzadeh, a spokesperson for the San Francisco COVID-19 Command Center, wrote in an email.
California informed counties last week that they should expect about a 33% drop in vaccine doses this month because of national supply challenges, including a 90% decrease in Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week tied to manufacturing issues.
For instance, San Francisco this week will receive 10,000 doses, including just 500 doses of Johnson & Johnson. As a result, the county is advising health care providers to prioritize second doses.
“As such, appointments for first vaccine doses are limited, and people who are eligible may not be able to get appointments right away,” the department wrote in a statement.
Given the limited supply, Kaiser Permanente stated that although people can book second-dose appointments, there “may not be enough vaccine allotted to cover second doses for people who traveled to receive a first dose.”
While those who receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine would have to worry about potentially traveling far twice to get fully vaccinated, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one visit to a provider.
Knowing that, and wanting to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, Kaz Werner, 40, of Santa Clara, recently booked herself and her husband appointments for Johnson & Johnson shots Friday at a Costco in Turlock — about an hour and a half drive from their home. They will officially become eligible for a vaccine under California guidelines on Thursday.
“My thought process was influenced by the need to travel,” Werner said in an interview Monday. “If it had been readily available around the corner from me, then that probably would have bumped the two shots vaccines up my list a little more. But because we are having to travel for them, the ease of the one-shot vaccine definitely pushed it up the priority list.”
The couple plans to make a day out of it, including having a picnic lunch outside at a park.
“The Central Valley isn’t our favorite day trip in this vicinity, but I’m sure we can find some nice things to do,” she said.
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Author: Maggie Angst
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