By Anna Giles

STANISLAUS COUNTY (CBS13) — As counties across the region clamor to meet the demand for COVID vaccines, rural areas say they’re at a disadvantage.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said it is state bureaucracy, more than lack of vaccine doses, that’s slowing local health officials down.

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Dirkse, who is also the county emergency coordinator, describes the county vaccine distribution in three words: keep it simple. Stanislaus County clinics are walk-up only, first come, first served.

“I drove the 20 miles to Oakdale and got it,” said Steven Novak, from Modesto.

Novak will be lining up again soon for his second dose at a county facility.

“I’m going to be standing in line for three hours, but it’s my second dose and it means my life so three hours is worth it,” Novak said.

Sheriff Dirkse said this keeps the process equitable for those with no internet or smartphones.

But the challenge just got bigger. Forty percent of the county population recently became eligible for the vaccine, in a time of very limited access.

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“More than the raw supply, it’s simply how the state keeps parsing everything out,” Dirkse said.

Sheriff Dirkse said the state requires county health officials to give a percentage of its weekly vaccines to private providers that can only do a few hundred vaccines a day.

“Our Turlock and Modesto clinics specifically can do 1,500/1,600 first doses a day,” he said.

In this rural county, the concern right now is not distributing enough vaccine to inoculate farmworkers ahead of the busy summer season.

Emergency officials across Stanislaus County signed a letter asking state officials to put equity in their hands and allocate doses directly to county health departments.

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“Really what I would say is kind of get out the way,” Dirkse said.