‘I have no idea’: The ordeal facing older Californians searching for COVID-19 vaccine
Carol Wingate has some stern advice for officials from the federal government on down: Get your coronavirus vaccine act together, and do it fast.
The 77-year-old really wants to be inoculated.
“It’ll save my life,” she said Monday morning after strolling to a mailbox in the El Segundo sunshine.
But when asked how she planned to accomplish that feat, she shrugged. “I have no idea,” she said.
She’s tried to sign up for an appointment online at least five times with no success.
“The problem is you’re getting messages from so many different levels of government,” said the retired elementary school teacher turned educational hardware and software saleswoman turned real estate developer. “And they don’t always agree. And [the message] changes.”
Since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that Californians 65 and older would now be eligible for vaccination, officials statewide have been flooded with calls from Golden State seniors, amid a spike in hospitalizations and deaths after the holidays. The problem is that there are more people who want to be inoculated, and who are brimming with questions, than there is vaccine to do the critical job.
Southern California is speeding up rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is where counties stand on their distribution plans.
The result? Widespread confusion, particularly in Los Angeles County, which has lost more residents to COVID-19 than any other in this hard-hit state. People 65 and older make up about 75% of all COVID-19 deaths nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Monday, two L.A. County supervisors urged that this particularly vulnerable group be allowed to join the head of the inoculation line.
The head of the five-member board, Hilda Solis, soon followed with an executive order directing that vaccinations be available to county residents 65 and older starting Thursday.
Solis said a website and call center to make appointments will be announced before Thursday. Meanwhile, the county public health department will hold a vaccine town hall Tuesday evening and is posting information online.
“If we are to ever get out of this dark winter, it is critical that we make headway vaccinating people 65 years of age and older as soon as possible,” Solis said in a news release Monday.
In an earlier telephone interview, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was hearing all weekend from people perplexed about who can and cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine. They’ve seen reports, Barger said, of seniors in Long Beach getting the shot.
In a mix-up last week, some local pharmacies seemed to be taking reservations for people 75 and older — but later retracted the offer. Neighbors have been swapping notes and bemoaning registration portals that won’t let them sign up.
In an executive order late Monday, Hilda Solis, chairwoman of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, directed county health officials to make COVID-19 vaccination appointments available to residents 65 years of age and older beginning Thursday.
“There has been such a frustration with the lack of clarity,” Barger said. “People tell me: ‘We’re told one thing, then we watch the news, then we hear something else.’”
Despite the state’s announcement that older residents would be eligible for the vaccine, L.A. County has not received enough doses to expand an already slow rollout.
The county has still been limiting vaccinations to healthcare workers, first responders and those who live or work in skilled nursing facilities, even as some other jurisdictions, including Long Beach and Pasadena, are allowing older residents to sign up.
County officials estimated last week that roughly 450,000 healthcare workers still needed to be vaccinated and said the next phase of vaccinations will probably not begin until early February.
“We need to be more aggressive,” Barger said, and not overthink this.
“The frustration that I’m hearing is that the county is being so rigid,” she said. “We need to do what Long Beach is doing, we need to do what surrounding counties are doing — we need to recognize that it’s not one size fits all.”
Barger said that she, along with Supervisor Janice Hahn, wants to streamline the process to make the vaccine available not only to healthcare workers but also to residents 65 and older, despite the limited supply.
She suggested the possibility of creating a waiting list. If there are any openings — for example, if healthcare workers miss their appointments — then people in lower tiers, including senior citizens, could get bumped up.
“We want it to be done this week, and that means getting the website up, getting appointments in place, getting waiting lists completed and letting people know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Barger said.
In other parts of Southern California, senior citizens are already starting to get vaccinated. Orange County has opened up vaccinations to residents 65 and older. Long Beach, which has its own public health department, moved Friday to the next phase of vaccinations, with Mayor Robert Garcia and other city employees getting inoculated.
Long Beach police and city residents 65 and older are now eligible for the vaccine. The city expanded its rollout after vaccinating roughly 15,000 healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities, Garcia said in a news release.
Long Beach will also begin opening vaccination clinics this week to grocery workers and educators.
In Pasadena, which also has a health department separate from L.A. County, officials on Saturday offered sign-ups to city residents 75 and older who had filled out a form expressing interest in getting the vaccine.
Reservations filled up within two hours for the roughly 800 doses that will be administered Tuesday at Victory Park, along with an additional 1,000 doses Thursday, said city spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.
City officials said they confirmed Saturday that they would receive enough doses this week to finish the remainder of their top-priority medical workers and begin inoculating seniors. Additional help from hospitals and pharmacies, which have been receiving their own shipments of the vaccine, has relieved some of the pressure.
Officials have also been reaching out to elder care facilities and older residents who might not be familiar with the online registration process. They’re working on establishing a larger mass vaccination site, perhaps at the Rose Bowl, and hope to lower the age limit to 65 as soon as possible.
“It’s all contingent upon how much vaccine we get from the state,” Derderian said. “We have the infrastructure to support the rollout. We just need the vaccine.”
Anne Nolan and her husband are eager to get the vaccine, but they’re not quite sure where to turn. Nolan is 58 and figures millions of Californians will be inoculated before she’s eligible. But her husband is 68, has underlying health conditions and should have a place in line much sooner.
At a friend’s suggestion, Nolan tried to get him an appointment via the Ralphs supermarket website, but she could find only information about flu shots. The El Segundo couple’s healthcare provider has emailed, but its information does not instill confidence: “It’s coming, but it’s not here yet.”
“The rollout is bumpy,” said Nolan, who works for an engineering consulting firm. “But I’m anticipating it’ll straighten out soon. ... A little more clear messaging is probably necessary.”
That’s a gentler description than Betty, who does not want her last name used, would offer. She’s 75, a retired real estate broker and has lived in El Segundo since 1954.
Information about getting the vaccine “seems to be all over the map,” she complained Monday morning from a shady bench in the city’s downtown. “I would like to get it. I have no idea where. ... All my friends want to get it. They don’t know where or how.”
Betty’s four-woman text message group is an exercise in frustration.
Woman No. 1: “I called my primary Dr office, they referred me to Torrance FAQ. They have no info...”
Betty: “I heard on news this morning to go to vacinatelacounty.com for info didn’t try it so no idea if it works ($10 it doesn’t)” ...
Woman No. 2: “I went on that link and it talks about a demo? ... It made no sense to me. ...”
Woman No. 3: “Don’t make sense to me either. ...”
Betty said she doubts government on any level can get the inoculation process fixed. It certainly won’t be straightened out soon enough for her and her friends.
“If you find out where to get the vaccine, tell me,” she said before walking off down Grand Avenue. “I’ll share it.”
More vaccine information:
Those 65 and older in L.A. County 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 and older, through a different online portal, https://carbonhealth.com/covid-19-vaccines. 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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