Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman has said the recent change of national leadership is ushering new pandemic response action, including a plan to open federally-run community vaccination centers.
Huffman outlined new federal pandemic responses and co-hosted a panel of the North Coast region’s health officials with Assemblymember Jim Wood at a February 3 online town hall forum.
He noted the Biden administration’s use of the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine supply, describing that move as “the big one right now.”
The additional supply will be met with “more places” to get vaccinated, Huffman continued. “We haven’t had federal vaccination centers – that’s gonna change,” he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. National Guard will helm new vaccination centers. Huffman said that will be “really helpful” in rural and underserved areas, and mobile vaccination centers are being planned.
“You’re going to see all of this ramp up in the weeks ahead,” said Huffman.
The forum’s panel included Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren, who reported that his county set up an “ethics committee’ to adjust vaccination eligibility categories “based on what we thought locally made more sense.”
Coren said about 70 percent of Mendocino County’s teachers have been vaccinated.
Also on the panel was Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman, who, like Coren, described vaccine supply as a challenge.
Hoffman said two county public health clinics ran until the end of January but their operation was suspended due to lack of vaccine supply.
Humboldt is now vaccinating emergency first responders, elderly residents and, since late January, in-person teachers.
Food and agriculture workers will be the next group up for vaccination, Hoffman said, adding that Humboldt County has received 17,500 vaccine doses so far with 16,000 administered.
Facing the unknown
During the forum’s question and answer session, there was emphasis on the continued need for masking, social distancing and other preventative measures even after vaccination.
Preliminary data on coronavirus variants is just emerging and there is concern about impact on vaccine efficacy.
Following a discussion on the recent emergence of several variants, Coren said preventative measures will continue to be essential because the effects of variants and the ultimate efficacy of vaccines are unknown at this point.
“One of the downsides of having vaccines is if we get overconfident,” he continued. “Especially with the variants, if the variants surpass the efficacy of the vaccines, we can be in for another surge -- that’s a very real possibility.”
He added, “There’s a lot we don’t know, so let’s keep doing what we know does work and that’s masking, social distancing and avoiding those parties and gatherings.”
The county is using mRNA vaccines that are given in two doses spaced several weeks apart. According to a Feb.1 county press release, new first dose vaccinations are “expected to slow in the coming weeks as nearly 6,000 people are set to begin receiving appointment invitations to schedule their second dose in February and March.”
Vaccinations are being done on an appointment basis through health care providers or the county’s online “vaccine interest form.”
Health officials are re-iterating that being vaccinated doesn’t ensure safety when travelling and gathering.
During a Feb. 4 media availability video, county Communicable Disease Supervisor Hava Phillips said that while vaccination prevent symptoms, it’s possible that it doesn’t prevent infection and transmission.
“That’s why it’s important that we continue to use everything we have at our disposal to prevent disease especially in communities and workplaces like schools, where we don’t have the ability to vaccinate every single person there,” she said.