Today, Dr. Ian Hoffman, Humboldt County health officer, took questions from local reporters on the county’s response to the pandemic — particularly, today, about the vaccination effort.

Video above, rough transcript below.


Good afternoon. We’re here with Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman for the January 21st media availability. Thank you for being here with us.

Thank you.

The North Coast Journal asks: “We’re receiving reports that both Safeway on Harris St. and Mad River Community Hospital have either posted sign ups for vaccine appointments or held vaccine clinics reportedly available to residents who don’t yet meet the stated eligibility criteria of being a healthcare worker or over the age of 75. Can you please explain how these offerings do or don’t fit into the county’s vaccination plan?”

Sure, yeah. We’ve been working with both of these entities to vaccinate our population. Safeway has been authorized to send invites to people who are healthcare workers we send those lists to them and then they invite them. That’s all the only group that they are vaccinating currently. Mad River has continued to work with our staff to vaccinate their own hospital employees and clinic employees and has worked with us over the past month to vaccinate other folks in the community who are health care workers outside of Mad River and just recently did start to open some clinics to those who are 75 years and older.

I don’t know of any of these who are offering outside of the guidance of what we’ve put forward and if we do find discrepancies, we reach out to those folks and alert them and try to problem solve around that. 

The North Coast Journal asks: “You have asked local residents over the age of 75 to wait to be contacted by their primary healthcare providers to schedule a vaccine. Is that still your advice?”

Yes it is. We have been working with a lot of healthcare providers around the county on trying to get the message right. One thing that we’re going to do to really try to help folks who are not part of the larger groups that are vaccinated right now, group practices that are vaccinated right now, is we’re going to be releasing an interest form that people would access on our website and that will allow people to go there, get their information and then we’ll collect that and make sure that those folks are reached out to in a timely manner to get them scheduled for an appointment. So that’s coming, it should be coming out in the next few days.

The North Coast Journal asks: “Some counties — including San Francisco — have launched vaccine registries that allow everyone to sign up in a single place to be notified when it’s their turn to schedule a vaccination appointment. Has Humboldt considered creating such a registry and what are the logistical challenges to doing so?”

Yes definitely. We’re working on that on a small scale for a smaller county. We’re starting - we started with surveys that we sent out to the groups in Phase 1A to find out what their interest was and start to organize clinics for them and that’s been ongoing since we got vaccine in December. We’ve also been working with other groups to you know like teachers and law enforcement and first responders to gauge their interest and start to work towards that next stage of planning.

And then there’s this interest form that’s going to be coming out and we realize that’s a small scale of what’s going on in some places but it is a big logistical challenge to get these things going. I’ll just note as well the state is working on a state-based platform for this exact kind of thing and we are definitely anticipating that we’ll be ready in the coming future and I think that will solve some of these concerns when people can go to that state-based platform and sign up. 

The North Coast Journal asks: “To your knowledge, have any vaccine doses expired locally and what direction have you given local providers in the event they have doses at imminent risk of expiring?”

I have not heard of any local doses expiring. In our planning with the providers who do COVID vaccination, we emphasize very strongly that we plan for the number of doses so you don’t end up with expiring doses at the end of a clinic. It happens, sometimes people don’t show up for their appointment. There are occasional things that happen so when there are expiring doses, a plan is in place with those folks to have a list of people they could call up and always - if there’s really truly an emergency and a dose is expiring I would encourage them to to reach out to the health officer to find a plan immediately.

The North Coast Journal asks: “From what you understand of contact investigations, what’s currently driving local case counts? Have the impacts of holiday travel and gatherings peaked yet?”

Yeah, it continues to be mostly through contact with a known someone that you know. That would include travel to visit family and friends and also gatherings. So we’re still seeing that. We are also not out of the holiday travel period yet; it really takes a good four to six weeks to see the true peak of those travel related events.

Redwood News asks: “The State announced late Wednesday that providers could resume the use of Moderna vaccines from lot 41L20A. Are you able to talk about any of the findings from the investigation into the vaccine and its adverse effects? What would your message to the community be for those that may be skeptical of the vaccine due to the pause?”

Yeah, I’m very happy to hear that the vaccine was released from the pause. It was having big effects on our vaccination effort locally. The findings of the investigation were basically that they could not conclude with any scientific evidence that there was a problem with this entire batch, it was located in one small area. In a meeting with the health officers from the western states along with experts in immunology and allergy, it was decided that it was safe to move on. I think it’s the right decision.

That lot has continued to be used both here, in other states that had the same lot and before the pause it had been given across the whole state of California. Hundreds of doses here in Humboldt County, thousands in some counties without any other notice of a problem so we feel confident that this was a localized issue, that it had nothing to do with the entire lot and that we we will continue to use it and I definitely don’t think there should be any concern for that lot going forward. 

Redwood News asks: “Now that the County is able to resume using the Moderna vaccines and replacements are no longer needed, are you able to talk about how the pause affected vaccinations this week? Also, what this pause means for the vaccination plan moving forward? Are any future phases/roll outs going to be delayed or pushed back due to the pause this week?”

Yeah, I can speak to some of the delays for sure. Within public health we had planned to expand our public health appointments just over a thousand this week and those were affected by the pause we were not able to to schedule those appointments, so they’ve been pushed off for the week.

There were other mass vaccination events that had been in the workings for this week as well that also had to be put on pause I don’t know the specific numbers for those because they’re going on outside of our public health department, but certainly they were eager and anxious to get them going and and had to put them on hold, but now that we have the release we’ll be able to get those back up and running. And how is that going to delay future phases and roll outs, hopefully no more than a week’s delay.

We were planning to get through this week’s doses and so now we’ll push those to next week and I think that we’ll be caught up by the end of next week. Then it’ll just depend on how much vaccine we get each week going forward after that. 

Redwood News asks: “Public Health announced a resident in their 50’s died with Covid-19 yesterday. Can you remind the community how Covid-19 deaths are reported? How quickly that is included in the County dashboard? Can you also speak to the fact that this is our youngest Covid-19 death since the start of the pandemic?”

Yes, so when someone dies with COVID-19 it can take sometimes days to get through the system of data that gets it to our local public health department. If that happens locally, many times we might know about it sooner, sometimes it might be happening outside of our county in which case it has to make its way through a state-based system to get to us. So that’s one of the reasons that sometimes things might seem delayed from the reporting side, but as soon as we know of that we get it into our system and report it on the dashboard immediately.

So the youngest COVID-19 death since the start of the pandemic certainly hits very hard on us here in our community. I think that we also have to remember and recognize that this has affected so many communities across California, across the world and this is exactly the kind of thing that we’re trying to prevent with all of the measures. There have been many more who’ve died that age and younger all across our nation. So we want to remember all of them and take the steps that we can to prevent the spread so this doesn’t happen to anyone else in our community. 

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks: “At this time, how many, if any, COVID-19 patients from out of the area have been transferred into Humboldt County hospitals due to the surge throughout the state? Are those cases being treated in the ICU?”

I do not know of any. 

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks: “After the pause on the Moderna vaccine batch the county was relying on to provide much of its vaccinations, does the county expect to be receiving additional shipments of the Moderna vaccine this month?”

Yes, we continue to get Moderna vaccine each week as allocated from the state and now with the freeing up of that paused Moderna lot we should be able to hold all of our clinics next week. 

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks: “To assist with the vaccination efforts locally, how many volunteers are being recruited, what is the potential number that could be enlisted? Are those volunteers going to be needed if the current rate of vaccination continues?”

Absolutely. So currently we have about 40 volunteers who have been sworn in. We have many more ready to be sworn in and they’re absolutely needed because this vaccination effort is only going to get bigger and bigger as time goes by, especially as we get more vaccine in the future. 

North Coast News asks: “Since the pause on the administration of the batch of the Moderna vaccine, can you quantify in numbers how many people weren’t able to get their second or first dose of the vaccine this week?”

Yeah so I think I mentioned some of the loss of clinics that we had for first doses, second doses again it’s these are estimates, but I estimate about 2500 of those were second doses that would have been on hold this week, but now they can proceed and we’ve let everyone know who is holding those doses, that they should proceed to vaccinate their second doses with that batch. 

North Coast News asks: “Today marks one year since the announcement of the first patient with Covid-19 in the United States. What do you think Humboldt has excelled at in the management of the COVID-19 vaccine and what has been the biggest blunder thus far? After the vaccine is administered to more people — when will the virus become an annual nuisance instead of an existential threat? How long do you think we will be wearing masks and limiting gatherings?”

Yeah it is a big landmark. It’s been a long, bumpy journey to get to here. I think Humboldt is doing really well overall with the vaccine. Of course, we will not say it was not without challenges and we’re all learning as we go along and building it as we go. I think that there is hope on the horizon for more support for this vaccine effort which certainly gives us a lot of hope that this will get better before it gets worse and the the vaccine will be the thing to end the pandemic.

But that’s still likely to take a while likely if we can get the amounts of vaccine that are needed to vaccinate the number of people weekly to get to a large portion of our population vaccinated by the end of the summer, we will be able to hopefully get back to a better place where we will feel more confident about reversing some of the measures like distancing, gatherings. In terms of mask-wearing I think that that’s something that is really difficult to address at this time. If we look back at the history of coronavirus and how it affected other societies in the past decade, there were many places where people were wearing masks over the last decade nearly every winter. So I think that we’ll see where this takes us.

It is a new tool that was not available with the vaccine in the past for corona - other coronaviruses. So time will tell, but I am hopeful that once we can get through a large portion of the vaccination effort throughout the rest of this year that we’ll be poised to roll back some of those measures.