By Jana Kadah
Bay City News Foundation
The largest COVID-19 mass vaccination center in the state opened Tuesday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and Gov. Gavin Newsom and local officials took to the field to celebrate the kickoff.
The vaccination site, which opened for appointments at noon Tuesday, currently has the capacity to vaccinate 5,000 people per day, with plans to increase capacity to 15,000 people per day.
The stadium would only be open to residents of Santa Clara County or health care workers who work in the county. Currently, residents 65 years and older in addition to health care workers are eligible for the vaccine.
“Santa Clara County is among the leaders [in terms of vaccine administration],” Newsom said at Levi’s Stadium. “I’m honored to be here joining their partners and joining community leaders that are making this site possible.”
County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Susan Ellenberg as well as state Assemblymember Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, joined the governor on the stadium’s field to tout the new site.
Ellenberg said the site will help get residents across the county get vaccinated quicker and ensure more equitable access to the vaccine.
“Levi’s Stadium is an important site because of its central location in the county, proximity to public transportation and ability to serve a large number of residents every day,” Ellenberg said.
In fact, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority as of Monday started providing front-door services to the stadium and suspended fare collection on all buses and light-rail vehicles in the system.
The 55, 57, and 59 bus routes go to Levi’s Stadium and the VTA’s Orange and Green light-rail lines provide service to the site as well.
Dr. Jennifer Tong associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said the new site expands the county’s ability to vaccinate at scale.
Levi’s Stadium is Santa Clara County’s fourth mass vaccination site, joining two in San Jose and one in Mountain View.
So far, the county’s health system has provided more than 113,000 first doses and have more than 40,000 vaccine appointments scheduled in the week ahead.
“This is joined by about 100,000 doses also administered to date by other providers in our county,” Tong said.
Chavez noted that the addition of Levi’s Stadium is part of the county’s multi-faceted approach to getting as many people vaccinated as possible.
“One of the best ways [for efficient vaccine administration] is to have a layered approach. One is something big and mighty that’s happening here,” she said. “Two, are all of our community clinics that are really reaching deep into the community to make sure that people have access. And three, making sure that we’re being creative and innovative for those people who can’t get to where we need them to be that we go to them and get that vaccine in their arms.”
Tong said, “We have built both the infrastructure and the human power to get vaccines and arms as quickly as possible.”
So really, the main problem holding counties and the state back from getting more people vaccinated is supply.
“Supply is the issue. That is the constraint,” Newsom said.
In the next week, California is expected to have a little over 1 million vaccines — roughly the equivalent number of doses that we received a week ago, the governor said.
In the following week, Newsom predicted that California would get 50,000-100,000 more vaccines as well.
But County Executive Jeff Smith said more vaccines could be coming California’s way.
“The president has promised an extra 20 percent allocation to all the states,” Smith said. “We know that a new vaccine is on the horizon with Johnson & Johnson. We know that more Moderna is being made, more of the Pfizer is being made.”
Newsom said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which would only require one dose and is easier to store, could be available by the end of the month.
The Biden administration also announced that it will be sending a million doses to California pharmacies directly and may begin sending vaccines directly to community clinics as well, Newsom said.
But despite the lack of supply, the state has still expanded vaccine administration.
Vaccinations are now averaging just shy of 175,000 doses administered on a daily basis.
“I remind you, that’s more than double where we were a few weeks ago and more than triple where we were three to four weeks ago,” Newsom said.
The governor also rejoiced in case counts, hospitalizations and deaths significantly going down statewide.
The positive news comes as the state works on a plan to reopen elementary schools within the next month and start gradually reopening the economy.
Teachers and parents have voiced concerns over schools reopening, as teachers are not eligible for vaccination yet and because of the lack of supply, Newsom said he is unsure when they would be able to be vaccinated.
“We need to be honest with people … it’s very unlikely that we’ll be able to accomplish that, very idealistic goal, [to vaccinate teachers] before the end of the school year,” Newsom said.
The only way he could see it working without significant increase in vaccine supply is if “we took them away from the vast majority of others are seniors and are most medically vulnerable.”
“That’s the unfortunate position we’re all in,” Newsom said.
Eligible residents in Santa Clara County can book an appointment at Levi’s Stadium and other vaccination sites at sccfreevax.org.
The county has also instituted a “no wrong door” policy, allowing all residents 65 years and older to get vaccinated at any site or private health care provider, regardless of their insurance.