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Petaluma Health Center to boost vaccination efforts with $6.3 million in federal funding

With 80,000 people left to be vaccinated in Petaluma Health Center’s service area, the need is still great, officials say.|

The Petaluma Health Center is working to more than triple its vaccination efforts in the coming weeks and months, adding a fourth regional vaccine clinic and bolstering staffing at existing sites while also preparing to launch a mobile clinic to reach the area’s homeless population.

Made possible through $6.3 million in federal funding, the effort is part of the Biden administration’s push to supercharge vaccine distribution to the hardest-hit communities nationwide.

“For low-income people working two to three jobs, for our homeless residents and for the elderly (or those with disabilities) who may be homebound, being able to get the vaccine to them, rather than waiting for them to get to the vaccine, makes the most sense,” said Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer for Petaluma Health Center.”

With 80,000 people left to be vaccinated in Petaluma Health Center’s service area, the need is still great, Toledo said, adding that the center has vaccinated 10,000 people to date.

The health center is capable of administering 2,500 vaccine doses per week at its home clinic, as well as Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus and a site in west Marin. Toledo said the center plans use the funding boost to expand that capacity to 6,000 by summer in part by adding another site in Rohnert Park.

But the organization’s plan to increase capacity still relies on a languid vaccine delivery program that has stymied regional inoculation efforts.

On Monday, Sonoma County leaders implored state officials to deliver more of the life-saving vaccines to the North Bay county where more than 300 have died and another 29,000 have been sickened in the past 13 months.

“Significant resources have been directed to expanding our capacity to equitably distribute vaccines,” Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins wrote in the letter to state officials. “It is disappointing that this effort has been met with decreasing supply of vaccines for our community.”

In Sonoma County, about 300,000 residents have received at least one vaccine shot, placing the county among the top of a group of comparable counties, but officials say the county has capacity to do more.

Supervisor David Rabbitt, who represents south Sonoma County, including Petaluma, said the county has the ability to administer 40,000 shots each week, but “we’re not anywhere close to that due to lack of vaccine.”

Petaluma Health Center has built up capacity to inoculate 2,500 people per week at its three clinics, but the health care provider this past week received just 1,500 doses.

California’s supply is projected to remain flat, reaching just 1.8 million doses per week statewide for the next three weeks before ramping up. Rabbitt, attributing the information to state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said statewide vaccine numbers will continue to rise, reaching 4 million per week in May and June.

The expanded supply should coincide with the launch of Petaluma Health Center’s mobile vaccine clinic in mid-April, which Toledo said will allow the center to expand its reach to the region’s vulnerable homeless population.

Officials and advocates have long worried about COVID-19 coursing through camps, where residents have little access to running water and other hygiene facilities. And efforts to reduce risk in area shelters, including Mary Isaak Homeless Shelter, have made fewer beds available.

“So many people are out on the streets or in encampments, going out where they are, or meeting them where they are, that’s a huge service,” said Chuck Fernandez, CEO for COTS, which runs the Mary Isaak shelter.

Fernandez said Petaluma Health Center has secured 60 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with plans to administer those doses Monday afternoon at Mary Isaak. Fernandez called it a “great start,” and praised officials with Petaluma Health Center for their work.

For Rabbitt, the federal funding comes at a crucial time for the region.

“I couldn’t be happier for that additional outreach,” Rabbitt said. “It comes at an opportune time…and it will improve the quality of life of all of those individuals that are going to be recipients of that care.”

Tyler Silvy is editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Reach him at tyler.silvy@arguscourier.com, 707-776-8458, or @tylersilvy on Twitter.

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