Getting a vaccine in San Mateo County is increasingly difficult

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is getting increasingly difficult in San Mateo County, and may get worse this week.

Despite the county’s drive to vaccinate anyone 16 and older who wants it, supply isn’t there.

The official reason is the county’s allocation from the state has been on the decline.

But it goes deeper than that because at least one county official says their allocation cuts seem to be deeper than other Bay Area counties.

It’s a situation that officials say is severely slowing their progress.

For anyone looking to get their first dose of the COVID vaccine in San Mateo County this week, the odds are not good.

"It's like finding a needle in a haystack. Very, very difficult, extraordinarily difficult," said David Canepa, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

That’s because allocations from the state have been dropping, from a high of over 20,000 doses a week -- months ago -- to 11,650 last week, and slightly less for the week ahead, an issue the county manager recently addressed in a virtual meeting.

"Certainly a frustration for many people who are now eligible, yet we are this week and probably next week we'll see less supply than we have seen for several months now," San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy said.

One resident says frustration is an understatement.

A retiree and caregiver for two homebound people, including her 96-year-old mom, Sylvia (who didn’t want to give her last name) says she has struggled to secure appointments.

"Emotionally it’s very overwhelming.  As a caregiver can only understand, what they have to do for the people they’re taking care of."

With anemic supply, the county no longer has a mass vaccination site like the one at Levi Stadium in neighboring Santa Clara County, which broke a state vaccination record Thursday, putting shots in the arms of 12,000 people in one day.

That’s slightly more than the entire allocation San Mateo will get this week.

Officials can’t answer exactly why their allocations are declining, but Canepa says the county had been making excellent vaccination progress.

"And what I'm hoping is on a decision-making level at the state, I hope they're not saying because San Mateo County has done so well they don't need the vaccine," he said. 

Despite the county’s reputation for wealth, Canepa says there are still many working-class and people of color who need the vaccine.

When it comes to getting it, Sylvia is determined.

"You never give up on what you need to do.  I will be persistent until it’s resolved.  But patience is pretty limited now," said Sylvia.

No one knows for sure when the allocations will reverse and start to increase.

What is known is that when the J&J vaccine was taken out of circulation, that exacerbated the problem, but that could be changing soon, as the continuation of its use will be considered by federal health officials this week.