Seniors who may have limited mobility and no immediate access to public health clinics but who desire a coronavirus vaccination should be offered whatever accommodations Riverside County agencies can provide, a supervisor said Tuesday.
“Seniors cannot be bypassed,” Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Jeff Hewitt said. “The county needs to reach out to people who want the vaccine but cannot get it. Seniors are the ones most at risk with the virus. We should drive out and give the shots to them, if that’s what we need to do.”
Hewitt has made health care for the aged, and particularly aid to residents of long-term care facilities, a central focus since last spring. He has been critical of government-imposed limits on visitations by family members to nursing homes where virus-related prohibitions have been implemented, fearing the emotional and psychological toll on patients already suffering from isolation.
The supervisor acknowledged it could be a “daunting challenge” for the county to identify all those seniors who are unable to access a vaccination site but wish to, but he said whichever options are available to find them should be exercised.
“It takes reaching out, making a phone call,” he said. “We’re in an age where everybody knows exactly where you are all the time.”
Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari told the board that roughly 821,000 Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson SARS-Cov-2 doses have been made available countywide since early December, when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration first granted emergency use authorizations for the public to receive the inoculations.
The most recent authorization was for the J&J shots.
Saruwatari estimated that 10.7% of the county population has received the complete immunization therapy, which for the Pfizer and Moderna brands is a two-shot process over a period of four weeks. J&J requires one dose only.
Riverside University Health System Dr. Geoffrey Leung told the board that a dozen mass vaccination sites are open countywide, and six mobile clinics — which are aimed at the very segment of the population Hewitt emphasized — are operating at least five days a week.
“We are shifting a little bit,” Leung said. “Presently we have more slots available at our mass vaccination sites than we have demand for them.”
He did not address whether the current supply cushion reflects a waning desire by eligible members of the public to receive shots.
Leung pointed out that under the current California Department of Public Health guidelines, more residents qualify for a vaccine than at the start of the year. He noted that “public transit workers, disaster service workers and utility workers” now have equal footing with first responders, teachers, agricultural workers and food service workers.
Those 65 years and over continue to be at the top of the county’s priority list.
Local Rite Aid and Walmart pharmacies are now receiving direct federal shipments of doses, joining Walgreens, the RUHS spokesman said.
Appointments at county-designated sites can be made via www.rivcoph.org/COVID-19-Vaccine, or by calling the county’s 211 help line.