Kern County Public Health Services is relaunching a smaller mass vaccination site at the fairgrounds in anticipation of booster shots and vaccines for children driving increased demand.
On Tuesday, the new free clinic — located at Gate 40 of the fairgrounds — will open for the first time. From 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday until the end of the year, free vaccines will be available for eligible populations.
“Vaccination is the safest, fastest, most effective way that we can develop immunity against COVID-19,” Public Health Services Director Brynn Carrigan said at a press conference on Monday at the site. “As we are starting to see a decline in our COVID-19 cases here in Kern County, we encourage our unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated to help us prevent a fourth surge.”
On Monday, the Health Department reported 747 new coronavirus cases and 10 deaths from the weekend, a testament to the lingering impact of the pandemic even as local cases decrease from a peak a few weeks ago. The state reported 243 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with 80 in intensive care units.
The number of hospitalizations has sharply declined since mid-September, when about 100 more people were hospitalized each day in Kern, but has remained relatively steady over the last 10 days.
Statewide, 71.4 percent of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated, nearly 20 percent higher than the 51.8 percent of Kern County’s eligible population.
Still, around 14,000 vaccinations occur each week in Kern County, a figure that has only slightly dipped since the third wave of coronavirus cases drove up demand for the vaccines in early July. Also, an additional 9.3 percent of the county’s population has received the first dose in a two-dose series.
The county hopes to vaccinate 1,000 people per day at the fairgrounds site.
“It’s hard to say how many vaccines we should be giving during any week in order to make a dent in the pandemic,” Carrigan said. “We should just see as many eligible people coming to get vaccinated as possible.”
The number of people eligible for three shots and the vaccine in general has increased, and could do so again in the future.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization for booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals in certain categories. The authorization allows people 65 years and older to receive a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine six months after the second dose has been administered in addition to individuals 18 to 64 at high risk of severe COVID-19, and those ages 18 to 64 whose occupation puts them at risk of serious complications from the virus.
Booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine are also under consideration.
On Oct. 26, an independent FDA panel will discuss whether to allow a version of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. If the FDA authorizes emergency use and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clears the vaccine for children, the Health Department hopes to offer the product to Kern County kids as soon as it can.
“It’s hard to tell what the demand is going to be like for the 5- to 11-year-olds,” Carrigan said. “We continue to encourage young children to get vaccinated because they spend so much of their time in a congregate setting, and while there is a lot of risk mitigation in place within our school system, having that additional layer of protection, being vaccinated, is going to be the best preventative tool that our kids can have.”
The Health Department chose the fairgrounds due to its familiarity with local residents. The site has served as both a mass vaccination site and a mass testing site.
During the fair, the county distributed 370 vaccines to residents at a small walk-in clinic. The county says more than 100,000 vaccinations have been given at the fairgrounds.
The new clinic, located at Harvest Hall, will be similar to their previous effort, but on a smaller scale. Appointments can be made at myturn.ca.gov, but walk-ups are welcome.
The Health Department will also distribute flu shots at the clinic.