A proposal from Menlo Park Mayor Drew Combs and Councilman Ray Mueller to partner with the San Mateo County Health Department and Menlo Park Fire Protection District to bring vaccines to homebound seniors moved forward Tuesday night, but not without controversy.
The idea is for the city to work with the county and fire district to hold a pilot program in vulnerable areas covered by the fire district, including Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and unincorporated Menlo Park. The pilot program would likely be limited to just 20 people, Mueller said.
While 76% of Menlo Park residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to county health data, as of about two weeks ago, only about 10% of homebound county residents have received their vaccinations, Mueller said.
One challenge that county health leaders have faced in providing vaccines to homebound residents is that vaccinations have been required to be provided by registered nurses, and that going into people's homes takes more time than at mass vaccination sites, he said.
The county is interested in the initiative and has contacted Blue Shield of California, which is administering the state's vaccination network, to see if it would be able to get permission to use paramedics, such as those employed by the fire district, to administer the vaccines. The city would participate by conducting outreach and funding whatever parts of the initiative are not reimbursable, he added.
If the pilot program goes well, he said, county health leaders could amplify it throughout San Mateo County, authorizing fire districts to help vaccinate people who are homebound.
Three council members – Mueller, Combs and Councilwoman Jen Wolosin – ultimately agreed to authorize city staff to talk with county health officials at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday to develop a scope for the pilot project, and remain open to potentially providing some limited support to the initiative, such as funding or public outreach to develop a list of homebound seniors in the city.
Wolosin said she was open to exploring the city's limited participation in the pilot and encouraged the organizers to consult with the county's vaccination equity task force.
However, the proposal generated pushback from others. Vice Mayor Betsy Nash said that she opposed it because vaccinating people is not part of what cities generally do and because Menlo Park already has a long to-do list. "It's out of the scope of what we normally do and I just don't see taking resources away from something else," she said.
Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor opposed the idea because she has been working with the county's vaccine equity task force and said she didn't agree with the process that Mueller had taken in bringing the proposal forward, arguing that he should have been part of the task force conversations and done more outreach to homebound seniors first.
Lynne Bramlett, board member of MPC Ready, an emergency preparedness community group, objected to the fact that Mueller had left the City Council meeting via Zoom to briefly present information about the proposal to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District board, which also meets on Tuesday nights but only once per month. She also objected to the proposal based largely on concerns about the process, saying more outreach and research should have been done first.
Separately, but nearly simultaneously, the fire district board ultimately approved a general motion of support for the idea, voting unanimously to express support for local efforts to increase access to COVID-19 vaccinations for vulnerable populations and be willing to work with local governments to support vaccine initiatives so long as they are approved by the San Mateo County Health Department.
The proposal will come back to the City Council for approval once more details are ironed out, Mueller said.