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The Truth about the COVID Vaccine


Misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine has spread like wildfire across social media, so doctors of SLO county are here to clear the air.

There are currently two approved vaccines for COVID-19, Pfizer-BionNTech and Moderna, both of which are a brand new type of vaccine known as an mRNA vaccine. MRNA vaccines basically work by giving instructions to your cells to construct a “spike protein” that our immune system recognizes as an invasive protein and starts producing antibodies against it.

Vaccines are being rolled out in a “phase system” where each phase encompasses a specific group of individuals. The county is currently in Phase 1B, which covers Healthcare workers, adults over 65, and some critical frontline workers. The next step is Phase 1C where any community members and infrastructure workers, and then Phase 2, where anyone over the age of 16 is eligible to receive a vaccine.

The entire vaccination process only takes about 25 minutes, 10 minutes to go through check-in, a medical screening, and receiving the vaccine, and a required 15 minute medical evaluation to make sure the patients don’t have any adverse reactions to the shot. If there is any concern at the initial medical screening, there’s always at least one doctor or pharmacist on staff for further medical evaluation.

As of right now, roughly 16,000 people have been vaccinated in SLO County, according to Charles Brown, County Public Information Officer. This campaign has been a massive undertaking, with Snap nurses from across the country coming, SLO County Public Health, and local incident management teams all helping to distribute vaccines at these PPODs (Public Points of Distribution). The PPOD in Paso Robles alone has distributed about 6,500 total vaccines.

“This is a huge collaborative effort between the SLO County Public Health and the local incident management team… made up mostly of our fire chiefs… their captains, their battalion chiefs… we have volunteers through the Medical Reserve Corps. And then we have the snap nurses and pharmacists… from Florida, Michigan, Mississippi,” says Brown.

These vaccines have been proving incredibly effective, especially in older communities. According to our county’s website, the COVID vaccine has shown to be 94-95% effective, and according to Brown, in the 6,500 vaccines that have been administered at the Paso Robles PPOD, only 1 person experienced a mild reaction.

Even with all of this positive news, according to WebMD, close to half of America’s populous doesn’t want to receive the vaccine. One of the leading reasons for this hesitance from American’s is the misinformation that has been spread about the virus. The false claim that has gained the most traction across the internet perpetuated the idea that the vaccine contained a microchip that the government could use to track you. While it may sound like a conspiracy that nobody would buy into, there are hundreds of posts with thousands of shares and views on social media platforms ranging from Instagram to Facebook.

Our county has taken a number of steps to combat this misinformation to reduce what’s known as vaccine anxiety. There are a number of resources that the county provides to the public so that they can learn more about the vaccine, and the process of receiving it.

“We have a number of tools we are using to combat misinformation. We have a robust website that we update frequently with FAQs and information to try and dispel myths we hear about. We also have a team of PIO staff that are frequently updating and answering questions on social media channels to try and dispel myths and get accurate information out there. We are also doing targeted outreach to hard-to-serve and underserved populations and those with language barriers… we have been doing a number of speaking engagements with local radio, news outlets and community groups. In essence, we are leaving no stone unturned to try and get good, accurate, local information into this community.” Michelle Shoresman, County Health Director Penny Borenstein’s media liaison, said.

While the County Health Office has taken a number of steps to communicate with the public, a number of doctors in Paso Robles have been very frustrated over the current situation. Shoresman commented on providing vaccines to external providers, saying “There are several steps to that process, but we have had several local providers and pharmacies that have completed the process and are ready to deliver vaccines.”

Dr. Joseph Bettencourt

Dr. Joseph Bettencourt tells a different story, however. He says that he has had little communication to the county, and is incredibly frustrated that he is unable to get his hands on vaccines, as a large number of his patients are in the at-risk category. “We are all ready to go, but we can’t provide the service to our patients because the system to register as a provider is not working… The vaccine is free, so this [supplying the vaccine] is not something we are doing to make money. We want to be able to provide the vaccine to our qualified patients because it’s the right thing to do,” says Bettencourt.

However, even if doctors like Bettencourt were able to become a local provider, he would be unable to actually get his hands on a vaccine for the foreseeable future. Our county is seeing a massive shortage of vaccines, and is in the process of closing two of the three PPOD locations, leaving only the San Luis location open to provide booster vaccines to the already vaccinated public. This vaccine shortage is likely due to the new Biden administration along with Gavin Newsom.

“…governor Newsome, along with the Biden administration, want to open up to more large scale vaccination clinics, and I believe ones in Los Angeles and one is in Oakland,” says Adan Orocco, CalFire public information officer.

“…we know that in order to get them fully up and running, that it’s going to require a massive number of doses. But it hasn’t been confirmed… That’s the reason we’re not getting the full allocation. But the speculation is pretty solid,” says Brown. 

This chart shows the difference in time it’s going to take to vaccinate both Paso Robles and the whole county from current vaccine allocation to projected allocation.

Cal Fire Assistant Chief Josh Taylor

SLO county has been putting in for it’s highest allocation amount of vaccines every week, but has been seeing less and less, and many speculate that it is due to prioritization of major cities and these new “max sites” for vaccination. According to Assistant Chief of CalFire and Incident Manager Josh Taylor, if the county kept receiving the allocation that it had been, we would move into the next phase in as little as a few weeks, but now with the state’s lack of communication, there is no indication as to when we will move forward. Taylor said that it would likely take several months before everyone in the county could be vaccinated.

While there is internal frustration between state, county, and local providers, the vaccine is still here. People are receiving it, and to great success. It is one of the greatest commodities in the United States right now. When asked about handling the vaccine, Grant Frempter, a vaccination preparation technician at the PPOD in Paso Robles says

“ times you feel like you’re pulling it [the vaccine] out and it’s like a bomb that you’re holding, but once you get over that it’s something that you deal with just as a job in this position.”

Now SLO county just has to wait on the state to meet the demand, which will allow the county to open back up to entertainment, indoor dining, and in-person education.



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    Angela HollanderApr 27, 2021 at 10:08 pm

    I’ve been volunteering twice a week at the Paso POD since mid-January and would like you to do a follow-up story. Specifically, we are now administering as many at 1100 doses a day at our one site. While allocation was lower when you first wrote the story it has greatly improved and the vaccine supply has increased considerably. I disagree with Dr. Bettencourt’s opinion and believe President Biden and Governor Newsom were NOT to blame but that previous President never thought out a plan past production of the vaccine. There was no plan for “getting shots into arms.” That said Dr. Borenstein has done an exemplary job.