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José Cárdenas said he got lucky. About a week and a half ago, his friend told him that San Bernardino County was starting to vaccinate seniors age 65 and older.
The Montclair resident clicked on the county’s COVID-19 response website and was able to make an appointment for Jan. 26. But he knows that most people have struggled. Even his sister has been unable to make an appointment.
Sherrie Guerrero is the chief development officer of Reach Out, a nonprofit that serves families in inland Southern California. Their Latino Health Collaborative has been hosting Spanish-language webinars to reach community members who lack culturally sensitive information — and sometimes receive misinformation — about the vaccine.
She said she hears numerous stories of San Bernardino seniors struggling to make an appointment, most of them relying on their children for help.
“I think the biggest obstacle to seniors is the technology,” she said. Her father doesn’t even own a computer.
Here’s what you need to know as you navigate the process of getting a vaccine for you — or your parents — through San Bernardino County. We also have information about the process in Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County and Ventura County. This is the most up-to-date and complete information that we have right now, but it may change.
Where things stand
San Bernardino is currently vaccinating healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents, firefighters, police officers and people 65 and older who live or work in the county.
Those who are eligible for their vaccines through work should receive information from their employers, and long-term care facilities are working with CVS and Walgreens to serve their residents.
For others, the county’s COVID-19 response website lists dates and links to appointments for the five county-run vaccination sites — San Bernardino Health Center, Ontario Health Center, Ontario Convention Center, Hesperia Health Center and Arroyo Valley High School — as well as various hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.
There is also a county COVID-19 hotline, at (909) 387-3911, that is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for those who need help.
But the appointments are often already full.
Those who have time to constantly check the website may luck out as Cárdenas did. But an easier way may be to sign up for email or text notifications for updates on vaccine opportunities.
County spokesman David Wert explained that the county’s main difficulty is that it doesn’t know how many doses it will receive from the state until the Friday of the week prior.
Through its notifications, it gives updates on when it has more appointments, but it also sends information about special opportunities like the county’s first large-scale one-day vaccination event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, which was for seniors. There will be a second event in a month to give them all their second dose.
Appointments filled up in 17 minutes, Wert said.
Although he’s happy they were able to vaccinate about 3,500 people in one day, he estimates there are 250,000 to 300,000 people over 65 in the county.
The county’s vaccine response is still in its infancy, he said. San Bernardino has 2.2 million residents, and he estimates the county has been allocated about 170,000 doses so far.
“In the long run, what will be the most effective is when we establish a number of vaccination centers that are open five to six days a week, vaccinating 300 to 500 people a day,” he said.
How to get your first dose
Wert knows it has been a struggle for many to get appointments at one of the county-run locations through Calvax.org, the state’s site that does sign-ups for COVID vaccination clinics.
It prompts users to fill out pages of personal information, often just to show that there are no longer appointments available.
It’s the state’s appointment site, he explained, and they had briefly considered switching to their own after receiving many complaints. But they have been told the state is transitioning to the My Turn (myturn.ca.gov) platform, which is currently available for Los Angeles and San Diego and promises to deliver a better experience.
It doesn’t hurt to sign up for My Turn in advance, he said.
In the meantime, he said the county’s locations aren’t currently organized by vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) — the centers just distribute whatever is available that week — so there isn’t a big difference between each location.
Wherever is closest that you can find an appointment is your best bet, he said.
How to get your second dose
Wert said that the county quickly realized that those who were trying to sign up for second doses were having trouble competing with everyone who was trying to get first doses.
So they set up a separate page on their website for second-dose appointments. The system checks that you get the same type of shot as your first (Pfizer or Moderna) and that you get it at the proper time (after 21 days for Pfizer and after 28 days for Moderna).
Those who have received the first dose will receive a vaccination card that tells you when you are eligible for the second dose, as well as an email reminder to make the second appointment.
County CEO Leonard Hernandez announced at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting that the county is working to make it so that “people who sign up for a vaccine through San Bernardino County’s portal will automatically get an appointment for the second dose at the same time.”
Geographically, San Bernardino is the largest county in the nation, encompassing more than 20,000 square miles, so the county is planning to set up mobile vaccination clinics so that residents living in more remote areas don’t have to travel as far.
There will be more information about the locations in the future, but Wert said they will be targeting senior centers, libraries and large senior housing complexes. Again, sign up for the notifications to get alerts when this effort begins.
An efficient process, once you can get that appointment
Wert said that there are two main challenges of vaccine distribution for the county: infrastructure and supply. He said they have the infrastructure ready to go, but without the supply, they are stuck.
Cárdenas, 70, an air conditioning and heating technician, said that once he got the vaccine appointment, it was “super easy.”
There was barely a wait. The longest part was the 15 to 30 minutes he had to stay after the shot to make sure he didn’t have any allergic reactions, which are very rare for Moderna and Pfizer, the two vaccines currently in use.
The staff made his experience so comfortable that he asked them how he could sign up to volunteer.
“They told me to wait until after I got my second shot,” he said.
He’ll have to wait until the end of February. But he’s looking forward to helping his fellow neighbors in San Bernardino get vaccinated.
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