Santa Clara County vaccinated its millionth resident on Friday — a notable milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We need to take a moment and take a deep breath and really celebrate," county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. "This is a really big deal."
The county has a population of 1.9 million people and less than 20% are children under 16, so 1 million vaccinated residents mean more than 60% of the county's population has received at least one dose and more than one-third of the eligible population, those 16 years and older, are totally vaccinated.
The news comes only four months after the county vaccinated its first person and a week after those 16 years and older became eligible for inoculation.
"I never thought when we first started this effort that we would be here today," county Vaccine and Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said. "We are celebrating today ... but we still have a ways to go."
He noted that at this rate, 85% of the population could be vaccinated by June, but it will likely take a couple more months. That's because getting the remaining population inoculated will be a difficult feat, Fenstersheib said.
County data found that less than 10% of the population is vaccine-hesitant and the remaining roughly 30% may have a hard time getting vaccinated because of structural inequities and other barriers.
"We know that structural barriers such as discrimination, racism, xenophobia, access to technology, transportation and linguistic and cultural barriers, have meant that this is a much, much harder vaccine to access for many of our residents," said Dr. Rocio Luna, deputy county executive.
So, equity remains as the county's top focus in terms of vaccinations — especially in the hardest-hit areas of south county and east San Jose, where most of the Latinx and front-line workers live.
But county leaders say their equity outreach efforts have been effective. More than 16,000 residents were vaccinated through the county's door-to-door outreach efforts in the hardest-hit neighborhoods.
The county also has five pop-up sites, open most days, that will now be open later hours and during weekends.
"And we are pivoting this strategy to ensure that vaccine appointments are available on a walk-in basis," Luna said. "We won't stop until everyone who is eligible has been offered a vaccine ... and we will redouble our efforts to ensure that we close these gaps."
Still, despite the notable milestone, health leaders say it's still paramount to wear a mask and follow other COVID-19 safety precautions.
"There is going to come a time where it's going to feel safer and safer to take your mask off," Cody said. "However, we don't know who's vaccinated and who's not, so it is still the safest thing to wear a mask when you're close to people who are not from your household."
But Cody and county leaders stressed that the safest thing to do for an individual, the county and the country's health is to get vaccinated.
Right now, every vaccination site in the county has open appointments, with some locations opening as early as 7:30 a.m. The Santa Clara County Fairgrounds site will have vaccine appointments until 9 p.m.
Residents can learn more about vaccine safety and book an appointment by visiting sccfreevax.org or calling 211.
Because of the county's "no wrong door" policy, residents can book a vaccine appointment at any site, through any provider, regardless of insurance status.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.