Community vaccination clinic concerned it may be forced to close

As Blue Shield takes over vaccination operations in California, it may force the end of some community clinics.

One in Sonoma County is pushing back and circulating a petition to send to Governor Newsom.

"For us to close-up shop because we don't fit the model Blue Shield created, will be sad because we're not ready," said Wendy Young, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Medical Association.

The Association has been running a vaccine clinic at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa since January.

It is part of a patchwork of providers, organized by public health departments across the state to get shots into communities. 

"We're just a non-profit that asked what can we do and jumped in and helped," said Young.

Recently the state has contracted with health corporations Kaiser and Blue Shield to manage vaccine allocation statewide, in hopes of making the process more streamlined, standardized and equitable. 

"Sounds like a good idea and it would have been a good idea early on at the start before everything was already running," said Dr. Steve Olson, a retired family physician.

Olson has been volunteering three afternoons a week at the SCMA clinic, administering injections. 

But under new rules, the operation doesn't qualify for vaccine allocation. 
"We're not a health system, not a hospital, not an insurance company," said Olson, "but we have no agenda, we just want to vaccinate the community as quickly as possible, as safely as possible."

Not all of the volunteers are retired, some physicians are still in active practice, and participate on their time off. 

The county provides a few staff and the state hires some traveling nurses.  
"We're doing over 600 vaccinations a day and we have the capacity to do 1200 a day so how can we break through the red tape?," questioned Young. 
People finishing their sequence of shots Friday afternoon were surprised to hear such clinics are in jeopardy.

"I don't know why they would fix something that doesn't seem broken," said Kelsey Lea, after receiving her dose. "It seems counter-productive to start shutting down more places when we want more people to be vaccinated." 

Another participant said his second shot was cancelled by Sutter so he showed up at the SCMA clinic spur of the moment.

He got lucky and got his shot. "We need this place, " said Randy Destreul, "because look at all the people who aren't getting vaccinated for their second dose, it's nuts."

The physician volunteers say they do not want to give up the work.

"I'm having the time of my life, I cannot tell you how gratifying and fun this is," said retired family physician Dr. Stacey Kerr.

She is suspicious of the need to exclude groups such as medical associations.  "It goes against the grain and against the Hippocratic Oath," said Kerr, who works three afternoons a week and vaccinates about 70 people each shift. "It just doesn't make sense unless you're looking at corporate bottom dollar and there must be a financial angle to this somewhere." 

The clinic closed Friday without any plans to reopen except for a few days of second-round shots later this month.

Young is grateful for the community support, but is realistic about the petition reversing any policy.

"I appreciate the thought and the sentiment behind it, but I doubt it."

It's unclear how many community-based cliinics won't survive under the new guidelimes.

Neither Blue Shield or the California Deptartment of Health Services responded to inquiries about the changes.