COVID update: vaccine progress, expanded eligibility coming 2/28; Tier updates next week

This week state and local officials provided encouraging data relating to COVID-19, as opportunities to secure vaccine appointments continue to increase and eligibility is slated to soon expand.

Vaccine gains and new eligibility

This week, Santa Clara County reported that more than half its 65-and-over population has received the vaccine, and beginning February 28, the County plans to expand eligibility to workers in the education and childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture sectors. The County Health System is currently scheduling nearly 10,000 vaccination appointments at sites across the county each day according to the announcement, in addition to several vaccination sites now operating in both East San José and Gilroy that do not require an appointment. More information about booking vaccine appointments is available at

Multiple reports have surfaced over the last few days about vaccine appointment no-shows; as much as 10 percent of vaccine appointments were reportedly not fulfilled last week by the original patients. On Saturday, the County notified residents via Twitter  that limited same-day appointments were available at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds to eligible individuals. The County also notified employees about the opportunity to avoid any vaccines being rendered unusable.  While it is the only such notification to have gone out via this channel, the report noted as many as 4,500 appointments were not fulfilled between Feb. 8 to 12.

The state’s new contract with Blue Shield of California to administer an expedient and equitable statewide vaccine distribution network is set to deliver as many as 3 million vaccines per week by March 1, and as many as 4 million per week by April 30, according to the contract.

Blue Shield, a nonprofit health plan, is not charging the state for its staff time devoted to this effort. It will only bill the state actual expenses to support the vaccine network up to the limit of the contract.

Blue Shield President and CEO Paul Markovich explained why the company is stepping up in the battle against the historic public health crisis:

“We recognize it’s a daunting challenge to overcome this pandemic, however with all of us doing our part, together we can beat this virus and save lives.

“At Blue Shield of California, our goal is to work closely with each county, their public health leaders, and state officials to build a vaccine network that is only constrained by the number of vaccines we receive. That’s what will enable us to ensure all Californians have access to the vaccines equitably, efficiently and as quickly as possible. We are taking on this effort because we also want to do all we can to help overcome this pandemic and it is our commitment to do that work at cost without making a profit from the state.

“The state will be responsible for determining eligibility and priority for vaccinations, and vaccine allocations will be based on criteria determined by the state. As we work to accelerate the availability of vaccines, we urge everyone to continue following the federal, state and local health guidelines already in place for vaccinations and the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.”

Tier updates

Tier Governor Newsom delivered a COVID-19 update on Tuesday indicating that a ‘substantial’ number of counties could enter the Red Tier as soon as next week. Red Tier guidelines ease some restrictions in certain categories, such as indoor dining and personal services while maintaining low capacity limits to help mitigate risk, and also impact school reopening, in particular for grades 7 and higher. Where County and State restrictions differ, the more restrictive protocol continues to take precedence.

In Santa Clara County, school reopening plans are a district by district patchwork of continued distance learning, hybrid instruction and/or limited in-person learning opportunities based on age and need.  For example, San Jose Unified has established an interim cohort model available when the County is in purple or red tier; the program establishes in-person, stable support cohorts staffed by San Jose Unified employees who will ensure students log in to classes, understand assignments and stay focused on their work. Students eligible for this limited program will be prioritized based on categories including special education, homeless, foster youth and low socioeconomic status; chronic absence; academic performance and specific grades, including Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 12th.

We will update this story to include new guidance from the County relating to Red Tier restrictions when it becomes available.