‘We’re going to get the job done’: Dr. Scott Kellermann became Nevada County’s public health officer at the start of this year
Special to the Sierra Sun
Julia Amaral is trying to get in line, signing up for text alerts, and counting down the days.
She’s one of more than 35,000 Nevada County residents who will become eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination once Phase 1B of distribution fully rolls out.
Phase 1B’s first tier includes people 65 years old and older and those at high risk of exposure at work, including the education, emergency services, and food and agricultural industries.
“I’m anxiously waiting for them to get it out,” Amaral said. ”I’m 76 years old, and I’d really like to get the vaccine as soon as possible, along with everybody else.”
On Friday, she got one tier closer to a vaccine as the county announced starting this week it would begin vaccinating about 1,300 educators and corrections officers in Phase 1B, ahead of its original February estimate.
While for now other groups in Phase 1B will still have to wait for an update on when they become eligible, County Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Kellermann said people can expect more good news soon.
Despite trailing neighboring counties in its rollout and the major hurdles that come with a 28% senior population, Kellermann said Nevada County could soon be a leader in the state.
“I would say that this county, in another four to six weeks, will be the exemplary county for immunizations in Northern California, if not the whole state of California, with the way we’re collaborating,” said Kellermann.
After taking on the job at the beginning of the year, Kellermann said the coordination he’s already seen in getting though Phase 1A has him confident Nevada County is up for the task.
“We’ll have the facilities available and the staffing necessary to immunize this county and return it to a state of good health,” he said.
Kellermann cited recent examples of cross organization collaboration, like a clinic this month at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital that was partially staffed with Sierra College nurses and organized through the county.
“Individual people can’t do it alone, the county (government) can’t do it, the hospital can’t do it, individual practitioners can’t do it,” Kellermann said. “We need to work in a collaborative way that makes sense and brings these groups together. It’s not quite seamless, but we’re getting there. Everybody’s ramping up.”
Kellermann acknowledged there are still some hiccups in coordinating the various groups and with the distribution of vaccines to the county.
“We’re still not sure of supply, but I have a feeling within the next 10 to 14 days, that’s going to be all sorted out and we’ll get a steady supply,” he said. “I think what we’re talking about now and what we’ll be talking about four weeks from now will be a completely different story.“
THROUGH THE PHASES
This week Gov. Gavin Newsom announced upcoming changes to vaccine allocation that are expected to prioritize senior populations, which could help get more doses to Nevada County.
Moving into Phase 1B, Kellermann said the county is also likely to need more help from the state, which has contributed some staffing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state has so far distributed 4.9 million vaccine doses and administered 2.2 million.
Region 4 of the state — which includes Nevada, Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Yolo counties — has been shipped 75,011 doses as of last Monday, according to state public health.
As of this week the county has received just over 7,500 vaccines, according to Health and Human Services Agency Director Ryan Gruver.
The county has about 6,000 residents who fall into Phase 1A eligibility, which consists primarily of health care workers and people living in congregate facilities.
Kellermann said vaccine uptake among Phase 1A eligible recipients has been high, though exact numbers were not available.
“There are people that have a little hesitancy, but very few are declining,” he said.
Neither of the county’s two hospitals provided information on how many health care workers declined the vaccine, and the state does not require facilities to track the information the way it does for flu shot data.
According to state reports, in 2018-19 flu vaccination rates among health care workers were at 90% for Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and 81% at Tahoe Forest Hospital.
“You see people have some trepidation. Nobody wants to get a needle in their arm, so you see some anxious looks as they go through the process,” Kellermann said. “But after they get the shot, even though they got the mask on, you can see they’re grinning ear to ear because they know that it comes with a certain amount of freedom.”
As more doses become available to the county residents over the next month, Kellermann said he hopes people will look back at the time as one where people came together to get through the pandemic.
“When we look back on this pandemic I hope we’re seeing the start of improved relationships, collaboration, respect for one another and the healing of this country,” Kellermann said.
“I think that can start right here in Nevada County.“
John Orona is a staff writer for The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. Contac him by email at email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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