Free COVID-19 testing offered by August by La Clínica in Fruitvale. Credit: Pete Rosos

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It’s clear there are more questions than answers about the vaccine rollout in Alameda County. As an attempt to provide better transparency and clear up some confusion, Oakland city staff held a virtual town hall on Thursday, Jan. 21. Mayor Libby Schaaf, a team of interns, and public health officials fielded questions that community members had shared through an online forum

Public health officials also touched on bigger issues like the supply of vaccine doses and how the rollout might work in neighborhoods suffering the worst rates of virus transmission. 

What the rollout currently looks like in Alameda County 

According to Dr. Nick Moss, top medical officer with the county’s public health department, 2,000 first doses and 1,000 second doses are being administered every day at county vaccination sites. This doesn’t include hospitals, which are getting vaccines directly from the state, and nursing homes, which are getting vaccines through a federal program. 

While the rollout may seem slow, vaccines aren’t just sitting on a shelf, said Moss, in response to a question. “We’re doing several thousand people a day,” said Moss. “We are moving through that supply as fast as we can; we have to hold some back for people to get their second shot.”

The county is administering vaccines received by the state in locations called PODs, or points of distribution. Three PODs are up and running in Oakland, Castro Valley, and Hayward. “These are opportunities for people to make an appointment and come get vaccinated,” said county spokesperson Neetu Balram, who added that the PODs are currently vaccinating only healthcare workers and 911 first responders. 

Community members asked why Alameda County was moving at a slower speed than surrounding counties. The county called it a problem of supply and demand. “There’s a lot of demand for vaccines and there really isn’t as much vaccine to disseminate as we would like,” said Balram. “Supply is pretty inconsistent week to week.”

According to the county’s vaccine counter, which was updated on Friday, a total of 102,750 doses have been received by the county.

Many in the community asked how they could volunteer to help with the vaccine rollout. The county currently doesn’t need any volunteers at the time, said Balram, but this could change as supply increases.

Two “megapods” could open soon to offer mass vaccinations

After vaccine supply increases and the state provides a clearer framework for prioritizing individuals, the county will open “mega pods.” These are mass vaccination sites that could see thousands of individuals every day. “We’re working on standing those up by mid-February,” said Balram. “We’re looking at a couple of different locations right now.” 

One mega pod could be located in the Coliseum parking lot, which, as county supervisor Nate Miley recently tweeted, has been approved as a mass vaccination site. 

The county is also partnering with community health center clinics that have done mass COVID testing in West and East Oakland. According to the county, clinics in Fruitvale are planning to vaccinate the public in late February and early March. 

La Clínica de La Raza and Native American Health Center, community health clinics that serve predominantly Hispanic individuals in the Fruitvale, are currently vaccinating members of their staff and “will vaccinate their patients as vaccine supplies permit,” said Balram.

State proposes a new way to prioritize vaccinating the public

On Jan. 20, the state proposed a new framework that would prioritize vaccinating based on age, rather than whether or not someone is categorized as an essential worker. Basically, 80 percent of vaccines will be allocated according to an “evolving methodology” and 20 percent will be allocated by the California Healthy Places Index, which shows how the health of different communities across the state are impacted by socioeconomic and environmental factors.

For now, the county will still be vaccinating people based on their essential worker status. Teachers, for example, should be up in February, said Moss of the county public health department. 

Roughly 144,000 people have filled out a form on the county’s website to get notified when it’s their turn to get vaccinated. The county acknowledged the ambitious goals of nearby San Francisco County, which is planning to vaccinate all residents by June 30, and said Alameda County could do the same if it had vaccines for all its 1.6 million residents. 

“It’s a very hopeful time,” said Moss. “Obviously, it’s moving more slowly than we’ve hoped.” 

If you still have more questions about the vaccine rollout in Alameda County, check our in-depth explainer, which we’ll continue to update, to see if we’ve already addressed what you’re looking for. You can also email your vaccine questions to hello@oaklandside.org.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of residents in Alameda County.

Sarah Belle Lin

Sarah Belle Lin is an independent journalist and photographer based in the East Bay.