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L.A. County seniors can sign up for vaccine this week, but waits will be long due to shortages

The Forum in Inglewood is one of five mass COVID-19 vaccination sites that opened Tuesday in L.A. County.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Severe limits in the supply of COVID-19 vaccine will restrict how many older residents of Los Angeles County get vaccinated in the coming days and weeks, public health officials said Tuesday.

Officials said residents ages 65 or older could begin scheduling appointments on Tuesday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but slots were limited to about 50,000 this week, largely due to a shortage of doses.

The decision to open the vaccine eligibility list to seniors was made to accelerate access to a population that has been disproportionately affected by the virus. But it will take time to vaccinate all 1.3 million residents in the age group, officials said.

“We do not have enough of the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone,” said L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis. “That includes all those 65 and older, but we will get there. Patience.”

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During a town hall Tuesday evening, public health officials further explained the limitations affecting the vaccine supply chain.

The officials do not anticipate a significant jump in the amount of COVID-19 vaccine the county receives in its weekly allotment in the near future, said Dr. Seira Kurian, director of the L.A. County Health Department’s Division of Medical Affairs.

Kurian said officials originally thought the federal government had reserves of vaccine that would be delivered to counties to beef up supply when municipalities started administering second doses.

“But because it’s unclear how much, if any, of those reserves are available, what will most likely happen is that we’ll probably not be seeing a huge increase in the number of doses coming into us every week, but we are expecting to still be receiving the vaccine doses at the current rate and at the current levels, at least for the short [term],” Kurian said.

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Over the past few weeks, the county has followed the state’s protocol to vaccinate thousands of healthcare workers. But last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that counties could start vaccinating seniors before finishing with healthcare workers. That was not initially part of L.A. County’s plan, and officials said they had to quickly build up an efficient vaccine distribution system amid surging caseloads.

Since March, nearly 100,000 L.A. County residents ages 65 or older have been infected with the coronavirus, and more than 30,000 of them were hospitalized. Of the 14,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in L.A. County, almost 10,000 were age 65 or older, the county said Tuesday.

To expand distribution capacity, the county on Tuesday opened five large-scale vaccination sites, with plans to inoculate 20,000 people daily.

Since December, the county has received 685,000 vaccine doses, and more than 70% of those had been administered by the end of last week, according to the Department of Public Health. The county will receive an additional 168,000 doses this week.

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“We’re not yet sure about our allocation for next week, which will need to cover those healthcare workers that need their second doses, as well as everybody who’s ready for their first dose,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at a media briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Ferrer estimates that L.A. County could run out of doses by early next week. “We just have to see how many doses we’re going to get for the following week,” she said.

Other counties across the state report similar supply problems. San Francisco’s public health department will run out of COVID-19 vaccine Thursday because the city’s allocation dropped substantially from a week ago, and doses that had to be discarded were not replaced.

The amount of vaccine coming from the federal government has fluctuated from week to week, which makes it challenging to plan how many appointments should be made available and adds to the public’s anxiety and frustration, Ferrer said.

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Ferrer and Solis both said they hope that once the Biden administration takes over Wednesday, the county will see the flow of vaccine doses increase.

“It’s always hard when you’re operating in scarcity, but I do appreciate the need for us to be mindful of moving forward as quickly as we can to get those at high risk [vaccinated], and I think that’s what this strategy allows us to do,” Ferrer said.

Residents ages 65 or older can sign up for an appointment at the county public health department’s website, vaccinatelacounty.com. Residents without computer access can call (833) 540-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. for assistance with reservations.

The city of Los Angeles is also offering the vaccine to anyone in Los Angeles County who is 65 or older, through a different online portal. That website connects patients to sites including Dodger Stadium, San Fernando Recreation Park, Lincoln Park, Hansen Dam and Crenshaw Christian Center.

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Many who attempted to reach the county’s call center Tuesday afternoon to book an appointment reported that their calls dropped after the English and Spanish recorded prompts played.

During the county’s town hall Tuesday, residents said the websites to sign up repeatedly crashed, and language saying that only healthcare workers could get vaccinated was confusing.

VaccinateLACounty.com’s reservation system is linked to the state of California system, which crashed for several hours Tuesday afternoon,” the county said in a tweet Tuesday evening. “Thousands of individuals were nevertheless able to schedule vaccination appointments and at this time there are no more appointment slots available at County sites.”

The county will add more workers at its call center, which was also overwhelmed, and will likely add more vaccine appointment slots later this week.

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Orange County, where officials opened up vaccines to older residents last week, has also faced setbacks. High winds forced a two-day closure of the Disneyland vaccination site in Anaheim, and a batch of the Moderna vaccine given to more than 5,000 residents is undergoing investigation for possibly causing allergic reactions. (As of Monday, Orange County officials hadn’t received reports of any allergic reactions among those vaccinated from the batch.)

In L.A. County, officials have called upon volunteers to help administer doses and oversee site administration as the five vaccination centers launched.

“What we control is our capacity to push product out when it gets to us, and that’s what our focus point is going to be, is building out the biggest, most robust capability, so that when we get vaccinations, we have the infrastructure in place to effectively push them out in a timely manner,” Kevin McGowan, director of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management, told The Times on Friday.

The sentiment has been echoed elsewhere. Santa Clara County, for example, has also launched mass vaccine sites to accommodate a plan to vaccinate more than 30,000 people each week. But the county needs more vaccine supply in order to meet its long-term goal.

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The same is true in Fresno County, where officials planned to vaccinate 30,000 per week but have been forced to reduce that number to 8,000 to 10,000 per week, Joe Prado, manager of the county’s community health division, said Tuesday.

The county asked the state for 20,000 more doses but was told it would receive 5,100.

“We’re going to be running out of vaccine if our allocation doesn’t increase,” Fresno County’s interim health official, Dr. Rais Vohra, said.

Across the state, county officials continue to stress the need for patience from the public as they grapple with supply challenges.

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Ferrer, who has weathered months of political pressure and public criticism while handling the unprecedented health crisis, offered hope Tuesday about the county’s expanding vaccine protocol.

“This is a way of saving lives and creating a path forward for ending the pandemic,” she said.

Times staff writers Colleen Shalby, Lila Seidman, Maura Dolan and Maya Lau and Daily Pilot staff writer Sara Cardine contributed to this report.


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