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Kern County expands eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines as state begins to take over distribution

Brynn Carrigan

In this screenshot, Kern County Public Health Services Director Brynn Carrigan speaks during a virtual press conference on Friday.

Agriculture, food, education, child care and emergency service workers will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine next week. They join a list that already consists of health care workers, long-term care residents and individuals 65 and older as local vaccination efforts continue to expand.

In addition, vaccine distribution in Kern County is being taken over by the state of California, altering procedures that have been in place for the past several weeks.

Starting Monday, individuals who wish to use the mass vaccination site at the Kern County Fairgrounds will need to visit or call a state call center at 833-422-4255. Previously, Kern County Public Health Services handled vaccine appointments at the fairgrounds using a local call center.

In a Friday news conference, Kern County officials described the move as being part of an overarching plan that will eventually encompass all vaccine distributors in California. Kern County is part of the first wave of counties that will be added into the MyTurn system. While only the fairgrounds will be included in the system by next week, Kern County Public Health Services Director Brynn Carrigan explained, soon appointments for all vaccines in the county will go through the website.

“Eventually all of our vaccination providers will be on MyTurn and it will be a one-stop shop for residents to go and find out where there are available appointments and who is eligible,” she said. “All of our providers will not be on MyTurn next week, however that should happen very shortly.”

The county plans to call individuals who received the first dose of the vaccine at the fairgrounds between Feb. 3 and Saturday to schedule the second dose. Those who do not receive a call within one week of the second dose being due should call 321-3000.

With the change in platform, some confusion has arisen over whether or not people in the expanded eligibility categories will actually be able to sign up for appointments. Public Health Services warned on Friday that MyTurn did not yet allow the expanded group of workers to sign up, a glitch county officials hoped would be straightened out soon.

Vaccine distribution has been watched with interest by Kern County residents hoping life will return to normal relatively shortly. But supply has been hampered by a slow rollout, leaving many who are eligible to receive the vaccine unable to sign up for appointments.

Thus far, Kern County has received 96,600 doses of vaccine, with 93,097 administered to residents as of Friday morning. Carrigan said that the number was understated because doses that the county health department has administered were still not reflected in state data.

“Kern is poised, with an outpouring of community providers begging for vaccine allotment, to vaccinate our community,” she said, noting that the county was capable of providing 45,000 shots every week, but could not because it received a limited supply of vaccine from the state.

Kern County now receives 1.6 percent of the state’s vaccine allotment, a figure that is set to increase to 2.9 percent next week. Still, at the current rate, it would take 11 weeks to vaccinate just those 65 and older.

“I understand that there is a demand from our public for this vaccine,” Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said during the news conference. “We understand that many of you want to be vaccinated right now. We’ve been doing our best to get this work done with the limited supplies we’ve been given.”

He encouraged Kern County residents to “hang in there” as the county works to increase its vaccine allotment.

But trouble has continued even as more and more doses are received. Roughly 6,000 doses the county was set to receive last week were held up because of extreme weather in various parts of the country, causing delays and cancellations in appointments.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.