Essential California: (Some) vaccines are coming

A woman receives COVID-19 vaccine
Margaret Keenan, 90, becomes the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered Tuesday by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital in central England.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 9, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

For the record:

1:47 p.m. Dec. 14, 2020The original version of this newsletter incorrectly identified the subjects of a photo accompanying the story about the new Eagle Rock restaurant Chifa. The twin girls, Mazzy and Emi, are the daughters of co-owner Humberto Leon and not his nieces.

Britain on Tuesday became the first Western country to start inoculating its residents against the coronavirus, with the first shot going to a 90-year-old grandmother wearing a “Merry Christmas” shirt.

Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, called the first of the two shots “the best early birthday present I could wish for” because it meant she could soon spend time with family and friends, after enduring most of the last year on her own.

Britain approved the Pfizer vaccine last week. It is the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine after large-scale clinical trials.


Here in the U.S., the Pfizer vaccine is under review by the Food and Drug Administration and is likely to get regulatory approval this week. As soon as that approval comes, Pfizer plans to start shipping vaccine doses across the country so states can begin implementing their immunization plans. A second vaccine from Moderna is expected to be cleared by the FDA next week and could begin shipping out soon after.

California expects to receive a little more than 2 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of December. Each dose is one shot; both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots to be effective.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that the first doses will primarily go to high-risk healthcare workers. Los Angeles County is likely to get its first allocation of COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week.

[See also: “Q&A: When and where? How COVID-19 vaccines will roll out in U.S.” from the Associated Press]

The largest vaccination effort in American history now lies ahead. It will be a high-stakes undertaking requiring massive logistical efforts, as well as a PR campaign unlike any other. The vaccine can only protect us from the disruption of the pandemic if enough people agree to take it, and many Americans remain deeply skeptical.

Building trust in the communities that have been hardest-hit by the pandemic will be crucial to a successful and equitable vaccination effort. But it won’t be easy.


“In communities of color in particular, there is a real history of abuse by the medical system that creates a potentially higher level of skepticism. And yet that is the population that’s also at increased risk of COVID and increased risk of getting very sick and dying,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco.

As my colleague Brittny Mejia reports, the plight of Latino residents looms especially large here in California. Latinos make up about 40% of the state’s population but represent 58% of its COVID cases and 48% of its deaths from the virus. They also account for a disproportionate number of “essential workers,” who are more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. In L.A. County, Latino residents are becoming infected with the virus at more than double the rate of white residents.

[Read the story: “COVID-19 hit Latinos hard. Now officials must build trust around vaccine in the community” in the Los Angeles Times]

In an October survey, about half of the state’s Latino population said they would probably or definitely take a COVID vaccine. Fewer than 30% of the state’s Black residents said the same.

In a recent column, my colleague Erika Smith wrote about the the unaddressed history of systemic racism in the nation’s healthcare system and the well-earned mistrust many Black Americans feel toward the medical establishment: “Many of us grew up hearing stories as children about how Black men were left to suffer during the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and, as adults, have lived out our own stories of fighting through disparities to try to get adequate care.”

[See also: “Column: ‘Why won’t Black folks trust us’ on COVID-19? These doctors and nurses have answers” in the Los Angeles Times]


As Brittny reports, the state’s interim COVID-19 vaccination plan calls for extensive public and stakeholder engagement, with a focus on tailoring messages to key populations and vulnerable communities. As large numbers of the vaccine are made available to the public, the state plans to partner with community-based organizations, employers, public and private health plans and faith-based groups to reach specific communities.

“It is going to take a while to build the trust that is needed for people to get the vaccine,” Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director of health advocacy organization California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, told Brittny. “And to do that, we are going to have to enlist our trusted community messengers.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Some ICUs at California hospitals are completely full: Some California counties on Tuesday saw intensive care units hit full capacity, and others were getting close to those levels, as COVID-19 cases continued to surge to unprecedented levels. The Central Valley has been the hardest hit, but Silicon Valley is also sounding alarms. Los Angeles Times

A judge has limited Los Angeles County’s outdoor dining ban to three weeks, even as a state order will keep the restriction in place past Christmas, according to a tentative decision announced Tuesday. Once the ban expires — on Dec. 16 — county public health officials must conduct a risk-benefit analysis to extend the closures, according to the judge’s ruling. Los Angeles Times

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Facing a huge budget gap, the Los Angeles City Council made its first move toward eliminating hundreds of jobs at the Police Department and other city agencies, while stopping short of a more sweeping plan that would have targeted nearly 1,900 workers. Los Angeles Times

Humberto Leon, cofounder of the cult fashion brand Opening Ceremony, has opened an Eagle Rock restaurant with his family. Chifa (the Peruvian word for a Chinese restaurant) is a reboot and reimagining — 45 years later — of the restaurant that Leon’s mother, Wendy Leon, opened in Lima, Peru, before the family immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Eagle Rock. Los Angeles Times

Co-owner Humberto Leon taking a cellphone photo of his twin 7-year-old daughters
Humberto Leon takes a photo of his twin 7-year-old daughters, Mazzy and Emi, in front of Chifa. The new restaurant pairs the family’s take on Chinese and Peruvian cuisine with Leon’s stylistic flair and love of collaboration.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

KCRW names new “Morning Becomes Eclectic” hosts: Novena Carmel and Anthony Valadez will join forces to take over the show for music director Anne Litt, who has hosted since Jason Bentley departed at the end of 2019. Los Angeles Times

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Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, is reportedly leaving her post and has (also reportedly) landed on the short list for jobs in the Biden administration. Politico


A state law protecting tenants from evictions in California expires in two months, but lawmakers are seeking an extension until the end of next year, citing continuing economic hardships from a new stay-at-home order that’s meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Los Angeles Times

A suspected Chinese spy developed extensive ties with Bay Area politicians, including Rep. Eric Swalwell. While enrolled as a student at a Bay Area university, the suspected spy used political gatherings, civic society conferences, campaign rallies and campus events to connect with elected officials and other prominent figures. Axios

California’s do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do lawmakers are at it again: After attending a socially distant state Assembly swearing-in session, Assembly members Adrin Nazarian (D-West Toluca Lake), Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage), Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), Marc Levine (D-Marin County) and Chris Ward (D-San Diego) dined together at a Sacramento restaurant. The dinner was outdoors but included well over three households. Sacramento Bee


What you need to know about California’s new contact-tracing app: Beginning Thursday, Californians will have the option to receive smartphone notifications if they’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. Los Angeles Times

From the annals of our dystopian present: Amid fears of scarcity, California water futures have commenced trading on Wall Street, meaning farmers, hedge funds and municipalities alike can now hedge against — or bet on — future water availability in California for financial gain. Bloomberg


Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group, crashed a holiday toy drive in Placerville, leading to community outrage as well as clarifying statements from the city and its police department denying involvement. Sacramento Bee


Valley Voice newspaper publisher Joseph Oldenbourg has died at 57. The publisher and editor revived a scrappy independent newspaper covering Tulare and Kings counties in the San Joaquin Valley. Visalia Times-Delta

This month, the L.A. Times Book Club will focus on two books about the day-to-day lives of immigrants living in the shadows in America: Yuba City, Calif.-based poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo‘s lyrical memoir “Children of the Land” and Karla Cornejo Villavicencio‘s “The Undocumented Americans.” Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Wednesday: “Trick of the Light” by Michelle Y. Burke. The Writer’s Almanac

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 73. San Diego: partly sunny, 70. San Francisco: sunny, 64. San Jose: partly sunny, 66. Fresno: sunny, 66. Sacramento: sunny, 66. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Frank Muniz:

Our dad was a talented baker who made Mexican sweet bread, doughnuts and cakes. Growing up in the 1960s, we never had a store-bought cake for our celebrations. Being a giving man, he always made extra to share with the neighbors in Cypress Park. It was heartwarming to see him smile as he passed out his goodies to the neighborhood kids who came to our door seeking his creations. He was most proud of the fact that he made the wedding cakes for each of his five children. His actions taught us that we should use our talents to bring joy to others.


If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.