Earlier this year, the Biden Administration announced a new partnership with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. A recent White House briefing reported that “given the critical role that these providers play in their communities, President Biden will launch a new program to ensure that FQHCs can directly access vaccine supply where needed. At the same time, the administration will encourage jurisdictions to engage and work closely with health centers in their community vaccination planning.”
In Mendocino County, FQHCs include community health centers such as Anderson Valley Health Center in Boonville, Long Valley Health Center in Laytonville, MCHC Health Centers in Ukiah and Willits, Mendocino Coast Clinics in Fort Bragg, and Redwood Coast Medical Services in Gualala. Nationally, FQHCs serve more than 30 million patients each year — one in 11 people nationwide. Locally, FQHCs and affiliated community health centers, such as Baechtel Creek Medical Clinic in Willits, serve about two-thirds of people in Mendocino County, providing everything from medical care to behavioral health services, dental care, and some specialty services.
During the pandemic, FQHCs have been a crucial resource in delivering COVID testing and vaccines because these community health centers have trusting relationships with patients throughout the county, including in the most remote parts of our county.
In partnership with Mendocino County Public Health and Adventist Health, local community health clinics have administered more than 20,000 vaccines to Mendocino County residents.
Mendocino Coast Clinics Executive Director Lucresha Renteria said, “As soon as we receive notice that vaccine doses are coming our way, we jump into action and schedule vaccination clinics in line with the county’s vaccine distribution plan. We often have very short notice, but that doesn’t stop us from doing everything we can to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
The county’s vaccine distribution plan can be found online at mendocinocounty.org/community/novel-coronavirus/covid-19-vaccinations. The county is currently vaccinating people in the first two phases of the plan, which includes healthcare workers, people 65 and older, and people in essential job sectors such as education, childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture. In addition, people of any age with proof of the following medical conditions—those that increase vulnerability to COVID-19—are eligible for vaccination.
- Chronic kidney disease (stage 4)
- Oxygen-dependent COPD
- Diabetes (hemoglobin A1c > 7.5 percent)
- Heart disease (heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy)
- Immunocompromised state due to disease or medications
- Severe obesity (BMI > 40kg/m2)
- Sickle cell disease
- Physical or mental disabilities that increase risk of severe COVID or would cause problems caring for them if they contracted the virus.
The county’s access to vaccines is limited, and community health clinics can only distribute what they receive. Renteria is hopeful that with additional federal funding to increase vaccine production and distribution, local supplies will increase. Until then, she encourages people to continue to follow safety measures such as masking and social distancing.