staff in full safety gear stand under a sign that says "emergency"
Frontline workers at Highland Hospital will be among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in Oakland. Credit: Pete Rosos

Ten months after Alameda County reported its first COVID-19 case, frontline healthcare workers and emergency responders will begin receiving vaccinations against the virus that has upended lives and communities and killed 546 people in the county.

Alameda County expects to receive 12,675 doses of a vaccine developed by Pfizer as soon as today, according to a county statement. These doses will be given to workers at hospitals, including Highland and Kaiser in Oakland, and 911 first responders, including paramedics, EMTs, and firefighters, said Neetu Balram, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Public Health Department. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses per person, spaced three weeks apart, in order to be as effective as possible. 

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The Oaklandside is looking to interview Oakland healthcare workers who are eligible for this first round of vaccines about what this moment means for you and the communities you serve. Please email if you’re open to speaking with a reporter.

Federal guidelines for this first phase of vaccine distribution prioritize these frontline health workers, while the next round is recommended to go to residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Alameda County says it’s expecting a second delivery of doses in the coming weeks. 

“Acute care hospital health care workers and 911 first responders at highest risk for exposure to COVID-19 are our first line of defense in protecting our system of care from becoming overwhelmed and understaffed during this surge,” said Dr. Kathleen Clanon, Alameda County deputy health director, in the statement.

The city of Berkeley has its own health department and is directing all of its 975 vaccine doses to Alta Bates hospital staff.

The Alameda Health System is gearing up for this first round of mass vaccination starting Friday, according to an internal hospital memo shared with The Oaklandside. AHS plans to vaccinate “frontline facing” employees first, including workers in the acute care, emergency, and newborn delivery departments, workers at John George Psychiatric Hospital, and urgent care staff, among others.

“We hope to vaccinate all eligible patient-facing health care workers in our system within the next few months,” the memo says.

Kaiser Permanente, which has a hospital in Oakland, told The Oaklandside that it’s also expecting to receive vaccine doses this week and will distribute the limited supply among workers with the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

Vaccines are expected to be administered to other community members in phases over the coming months. While the county has not released details about the upcoming phases, federal guidelines say the next batch of vaccines should go to other essential workers, older adults, people with certain underlying health conditions, and people in jail, prison, and other group settings. Children and young adults are prioritized next. 

In Alameda County, a community advisory group will help create a plan to “ensure equitable distribution,” according to the county statement, and vaccines will be offered through health clinics and pharmacies to help make sure that they’re widely accessible. No information was included about how the advisory group will be formed.

In Oakland, COVID-19 has hit some communities much harder than others. Case rates vary dramatically between ZIP codes, and are highest in neighborhoods with lower-income and predominantly Black and brown residents. The East Oakland ZIP codes of 94603, 94601, and 94621 have COVID-19 case rates of 6-7%, whereas some of the wealthier ZIP codes in Oakland have rates of 1-2%. 

The statement said Alameda County will need to build trust among residents in order to ensure widespread vaccination, which is not mandatory. A vaccine plan document also says the county will refer to geographic distribution of COVID-19 rates and risk factors when deciding where to administer vaccinations.

This initial round of doses comes during the most dangerous moment in the pandemic in the county so far, with several hundred cases being reported daily. Hospitalizations have seen a consistent spike over the past month as well. 

Alameda County and local hospitals are continuing to advise residents to follow all existing pandemic safety measures: wearing masks, washing hands, and staying home except for essential business.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.