Amid controversy surrounding allegations that the San Benito Health Foundation vaccinated individuals outside of California’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, San Benito County District 5 Supervisor Bea Gonzales said she received a vaccination from the foundation. The foundation, located at 351 Felice Drive in Hollister, is located in her district.
Gonzales, 58, told the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 9 that she had registered her 80-year-old mother and not herself in the county’s vaccine registration portal because she wanted to avoid any controversy. She said when she took her mother to get vaccinated, she was also offered the vaccine because she was her mother’s caregiver as she lives with her. Gonzales works as an instructor at Gavilan College where she teaches the GED program.
“It was in my mother’s best interest,” Gonzales said. “I feel shame that I had the vaccine and I should not feel shamed that I received the vaccine. I’m sorry to the public that feel or [have] the perception that I may have jumped the line. I did not jump the line. It was advised to me by a medical provider to get it for my mother’s health and safety.”
Gonzales told BenitoLink she was offered the vaccine three times during her mother’s appointment. After declining twice, she agreed to an inoculation after being asked a third time. She said she believes she wasn’t given priority because of her role as a supervisor, and that she now believes she probably shouldn’t have accepted the vaccine.
“I don’t have a valid answer that is going to satisfy people’s concerns of disparity and fairness, so that’s why I said what I said [on Feb. 9] and I publicly apologized,” Gonzales told BenitoLink.
At the Feb. 9 meeting, she urged the community to move on from the issue and said the health foundation is an asset to the community. She also said that the San Benito County Public Health Services investigation into the health foundation for alleged unauthorized vaccinations needed to be broader, rather than focused on one vaccine provider.
“I would like for it to look at all the providers that received the vaccines and see if anyone else might have deviated from the tier and the guidelines because I know personally one did,” Gonzales said. “Let’s not point the finger at one entity, let’s put the past behind us. Let’s put the resources together and let’s start getting the vaccines.”
She later said, “I feel like I have dirty hands and I did nothing wrong. But I feel like I have dirty hands and I feel like I can’t come public and advocate for one organization or group of people because of my involvement in this situation. So I’m putting my guilt on the table. I’m asking for forgiveness from anyone that is demanding and wanting an apology. I am sorry, but I was doing it for the right reasons. But I’m not going to carry any burden beyond today and I’m going to move forward.”
Asked by BenitoLink what provider she referenced as not following the guidelines, she declined to provide the name but said it was a well-known provider that also offered vaccinations to their volunteers. San Benito County’s vaccine partners include the public health department, Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, Lucky Supermarket Pharmacy, Dr. Martin Bess and Primary Care Associates.
At the meeting, supervisors Mark Medina, Kollin Kosmicki and Bob Tiffany said they did not have a problem with the San Benito Health Foundation administering more doses so long as they stayed within the tier system as put forth by the state.
“We want to be partners with the health foundation,” Kosmicki said. “We’ve asked for some information so we can clear the air on what occurred and so there can be a level of trust moving forward that it won’t happen again. As long as they are willing to do that then we certainly want to involve them going forward.”
Medina said the county sent a letter to the health foundation requesting information, and County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa added that the county was looking for the health foundation to confirm that they will follow the guidelines. According to San Benito County Public Information Officer David Westrick, the county has not received information requested through the investigation as of Feb. 10.
Supervisor Peter Hernandez said it wasn’t practical that the tiers will always be implemented perfectly, as vaccines need to be used within a certain amount of time after they are unfrozen. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Moderna vaccine vials that have not been punctured last up to 12 hours after being thawed.
“The expectations from the state is one thing, the actual implementation was another,” Hernadez said. “I agree with Supervisor Gonzales. What we need to do is instead of, to a certain extent, allowing this divide to happen, we need to figure how to unite.”
Several San Benito Health Foundation board members expressed their support of the foundation’s actions and said the state’s guidelines were always followed in efforts to not waste any doses. Board President Robert Lund read a section of the state’s guidelines on administering vaccines to feasible groups and said that is what the foundation did.
“That is from the state, that is everything that we’ve followed. We’ve been prosecuted without evidence and without being investigated,” Lund said. “You’ve taken action without investigating and threatening us with further persecution.”
Other related BenitoLink articles:
BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is working around the clock during this time when accurate information is essential. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s news.