San Jose resident Cornelia Arzaga, 76, prepares to receive her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 9, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
The largest COVID-19 mass vaccination center in the state opened Tuesday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, with Gov. Gavin Newsom and local officials taking to the field to celebrate the kickoff.
The site, which opened for appointments at noon, has the capacity to vaccinate 5,000 people per day, with plans to ramp up to 15,000.
"Santa Clara County is among the leaders [in terms of vaccine administration]," Newsom said at Levi's Stadium. "I'm honored to be here joining their partners and joining community leaders that are making this site possible."
Vaccinations at the stadium will only be open to residents of Santa Clara County or health care workers who work in the county. Currently, only residents 65 years and older and health care workers are eligible for the vaccine.
County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Susan Ellenberg, as well as state Assemblymember Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, joined the governor on the stadium's field to tout the new site.
Ellenberg said the site will help residents across the county get vaccinated quicker and ensure more equitable access to the vaccine.
"Levi's Stadium is an important site because of its central location in the county, proximity to public transportation and ability to serve a large number of residents every day," she said.
To that end, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is now providing front-door services to the stadium and has increased the number of buses that stop there, while also suspending fare collection on its buses and light-rail trains.
Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said the new site expands the county's ability to vaccinate at scale.
Levi's Stadium is Santa Clara County's fourth mass vaccination site, joining two in San Jose and one in Mountain View.
So far, the county's health system has provided more than 113,000 first doses, with more than 40,000 vaccine appointments scheduled in the week ahead, Tong said. Other providers also administered about 100,000 doses to date in the county.
Eligible residents in Santa Clara County can book an appointment at Levi's Stadium and other vaccination sites at sccfreevax.org.
The county has also instituted a "no wrong door" policy, allowing all residents 65 years and older to get vaccinated at any site or private health care provider, regardless of their insurance.
California is now administering an average of about 1 million doses a week. That's a huge jump from last month, when state officials were criticized for lagging efforts.
"I remind you, that's more than double where we were a few weeks ago and more than triple where we were three to four weeks ago," Newsom said.
Supersites like Levi's Stadium now dot the state, and an increasing number of mobile units are also being dispatched to reach underserved communities, such as farm workers.
But the effectiveness of those efforts all hinges on vaccine supply, officials noted.
"Supply is the issue. That is the constraint," Newsom said.
To date, more than 4.9 million doses of the vaccine have been doled out in California. But that's only been enough to accommodate a tiny percentage of the state's massive population, the vast majority of which have yet to receive even the first of the required two doses.
However, Santa Clara County Executive Officer Dr. Jeff Smith on Tuesday said he was optimistic the state would soon be receiving markedly larger quantities of the vaccine.
"The president has promised an extra 20% allocation to all the states," Smith said. "We know that a new vaccine is on the horizon with Johnson & Johnson. We know that more Moderna is being made, more of the Pfizer is being made."
Newsom said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which would only require one dose and is easier to store than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — although not as effective — could be available by the end of the month.
Additionally, the Biden administration recently announced it would be sending a million doses directly to California pharmacies and may begin sending them to community clinics as well, Newsom said.
The governor also highlighted the significant drop in statewide case counts, hospitalizations and deaths, all of which are a fraction of what they were a month ago.
The positive news comes as Newsom and state lawmakers say they are close to reaching a deal to help reopen elementary schools, as pressure mounts to get younger kids back in the classroom.
Newsom, on Tuesday, said the deal would include $6.6 billion in immediate money to address learning loss and safety measures, and believes the state’s youngest children can safely return to school in small groups.
“I'm committed to their safety. I'm committed to our kids' education. And I believe the best education is in-person education," he said. "And I believe for our youngest kids, it's essential, particularly black and brown kids, particularly kids with special needs."
Still, he acknowledged the pushback from teachers unions, who have maintained that their members — most of whom have not yet received even a first dose — should be prioritized to get the vaccine before returning to the classroom.
"We need to be honest with people," he said. "It's very unlikely that we'll be able to accomplish that very idealistic goal [to vaccinate teachers] before the end of the school year."
Teachers would only be able to go to the front of the vaccine line "if we took them away from the vast majority of others are seniors and are most medically vulnerable," Newsom said. "That's the unfortunate position we're all in."
This article includes reporting from KQED's Katie Orr and Matthew Green, and Bay City News.