Mass confusion over new COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as L.A. senior citizens face weeks of delays

Healthcare workers wait in line at a vaccination site in the parking lot at the Disneyland in Anaheim
Orange County active Phase 1A residents, mostly healthcare workers, wait in line to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the Toy Story parking lot at the Disneyland.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The hoped-for rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for Angelenos 65 years and older was met with chaos and confusion Thursday, with the county saying it could be weeks before that group will be able to receive their shots.

It was a day of frustration for seniors trying to make appointments. Some were able to schedule them at retailers, but it’s unclear whether those appointments will be honored. Calls and emails poured into doctors’ offices and pharmacies, and appointment websites run by retail pharmacies reportedly crashed under the flood of requests.

County health offices fielded flurries of phone calls from residents confused by the mixed messages from state and local officials. Gov. Newsom, in his announcement Wednesday, said people 65 and older could get vaccinated, but local health officials followed with public statements soon after, saying the opposite.


“Want to see our phone light up like a Christmas tree? People are angry,” said L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger in an interview on Thursday.

Now, L.A. County residents over the age of 65 who are looking for a COVID-19 vaccine — and for clarity — will have to get in line. Here’s what we know.

Who is eligible in L.A. today?

According to the L.A. County Public Health Department, Los Angeles is still in Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout, which means only healthcare workers and residents of skilled nursing and long-term care facilities are eligible to receive the vaccine.

The department said the county is working to provide another 500,000 such workers with doses by the end of the month, and hopes to move beyond phase 1A at the beginning of February.

Surrounding counties are in various stages of the rollout. Orange County and Riverside County have opened vaccines to residents 65 and older, according to their public health departments.

San Bernardino, San Diego, Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties are still prioritizing Phase 1A healthcare workers.


When will it be my turn?

Phase 1A will tentatively wrap up in early February, at which point the county can shift focus to Angelenos in Phase 1B — which includes people 65 and over, along with select essential workers in education, childcare, emergency services, food and agriculture. The county estimates that everyone in Phase 1B will be offered at least one dose of the vaccine by late March.

Phase 1C, which includes people ages 50 to 64, and people 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions or who work in certain essential jobs, is estimated to begin in March. Everyone in that phase should receive at least one dose by early May.

Phase 2, which includes all people ages 16 to 49, is estimated to begin by mid-May or early June.

Children will not be offered the vaccine in the near future, the county health department said. The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for people over age 16, and the Moderna vaccine is authorized for people 18 or older.

The timings for each phase are estimates, and may change according to supply levels and state prioritization requirements. The phases will overlap.

Los Angeles County has set up an email system for people to sign up to receive updates on vaccine distribution.

Where will I go to receive my vaccine?

Nearly 100 distribution sites are already listed on the county’s appointment portal, and include a combination of clinics, health centers and retail pharmacies operated by chains like Albertsons and Ralphs. When registering for an appointment, you will be asked to verify your eligibility for the current phase.

Albertsons pharmacy manager Willem Henning said Wednesday that the stores are training more than 500 pharmacy technicians in Southern California to assist with vaccine administration, and that the vaccines are already “moving out the door” as soon as they come in. Ralphs spokesman John Votava said the vaccine will roll out to all 77 Ralphs Pharmacy locations throughout Southern California and the Central Coast.

Several city-run COVID-19 testing locations, such as Hansen Dam Recreational Center and Dodger Stadium, are being converted into vaccination sites. Disneyland is also being turned into Orange County’s first “super” vaccination site.

Hospital systems, including Kaiser Permanente, along with private doctors’ offices, will be assisting with vaccination rollout to their clients and members as well.

“We have been preparing for the expansion of eligibility under state guidelines, and are working with counties and state leaders on expanding vaccination locations,” Kaiser said in a statement Thursday. “Successfully delivering the vaccine to people 65 and older depends on getting access to adequate supplies of vaccine, which we understand is coming.”

Again, only healthcare workers in L.A. are currently eligible to register for an appointment. New locations and appointment times will be added as vaccination capacity increases.

Will I have to pay?

No. According to the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the vaccine will be covered by private and public insurance companies. People without health insurance can get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. There are no out-of-pocket payments.

What should I do while I wait?

Continue to follow public health guidelines: wear face coverings, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings. New estimates show that 1 in 3 L.A. county residents have been infected by COVID-19.

Officials say you should continue to follow those steps even after you have received both doses of the vaccine.

Times staff writer Soumya Karlamangla and City News Service contributed to this report.