Coronavirus Today: Where the vaccine rollout went wrong


Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, and it’s Thursday, Jan. 14. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

It’s no secret that America’s vaccine rollout has been anything but smooth. Many folks are feeling frustrated and angry after trying in vain to find out how to get their shots. Calls to medical offices and pharmacies often end without insight, and emails from doctors lack specifics.

“Many people are eager to get the vaccine, and they want to know when and where they are going to get it,” said Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “For the most part, people at the local level don’t know, and people at the state level are still trying to figure it out.”

States are about two months behind in their planning thanks to inadequate funding, said Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley infectious disease expert. Health economists said states would need $8.4 billion for their vaccination campaigns, but until recently they’d received only $400 million.


After the vaccines were developed in record time, the reasons for their fumbled distribution are complicated, my colleague Maura Dolan writes. They can be blamed on multiple governmental failures involving planning, coordination and public communication.

“Almost every practical question I ask anybody, the answer I get is a shrug of the shoulders,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco. “It is not good. It just feels like the plans have been made without any attention to the practicalities of the last mile.”

The problems start right at the top, with the Trump administration. Alex Azar, who leads the Department of Health and Human Services, promised on Dec. 11 that 20 million Americans would get their shots within several weeks. As of Monday, just 9 million had been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And administration officials have acknowledged a “planning error” for the availability of doses.

On the state level, vaccine distribution is being slowed in part by technical problems with a software program designed to coordinate the movement of doses among a sprawling network of providers, officials say. Another issue: the vast number of healthcare providers, including pharmacy chains, that have been slow to prepare communication plans to notify nearby eligible people that they can come in and get their shots.

A fundamental and longstanding problem is that public health departments are chronically overstretched, said Dr. David P. Eisenman, director of UCLA’s Center for Public Health and Disasters.

Right now, even as they’re struggling to respond to an overwhelming surge of COVID-19 patients, these health agencies “have to design these massive vaccination programs, and they don’t know where to start,” he said.

“It is much harder in the United States,” he added, “where we have so much private healthcare that has little to no connection established with public health departments.”

Some experts say the situation should improve in the coming weeks. But for now, even as the deaths continue to rise, most people who want to know more about getting their shots will have to wait.

By the numbers

California cases, deaths and vaccinations as of 4:49 p.m. PST Thursday:

2,865,479 cases, up 26,313 today; 32,012 deaths, up 336 today; and 971,829 vaccinations administered, up 82,787 on Wednesday.

Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.


Across California

One in three L.A. County residents have been infected with the coronavirus at some point since the start of the pandemic, county scientists say — a shocking sign of just how much the virus is spreading in the region. If their models are right, it means that more than 3 million of the county’s 10 million residents have gotten it. That’s more than triple the total number of cases that have been confirmed by testing.

As the virus continues its relentless spread, poor neighborhoods and the county’s Latino and Black communities are still among those being hit hardest. People living in the most impoverished neighborhoods are now averaging about 36 deaths per day per 100,000 residents. Contrast that with those living in the wealthiest areas, which are experiencing about 10 deaths per day per 100,000 residents.

Latino residents are dying at eight times the daily rate they once did, rising from 3.5 deaths per day per 100,000 in early November to the current mark of 28 deaths per day per 100,000. “This is a staggering increase of over 800% in a very short amount of time,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. Residents of poor Latino neighborhoods are highly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of dense housing, crowded living conditions and the fact that many who live there are essential workers unable to make their living from home. Officials think people in those neighborhoods get sick on the job and then spread the virus to the family members with whom they live.

The COVID-19 mortality rate among Black residents shot up from 1 death per day per 100,000 in early November to more than 15 deaths per day per 100,000 now. Deaths among Asian residents have also increased dramatically, from 1 to 12 deaths per day per 100,000. White residents, who were dying at a rate of 1 per day per 100,000 back in November, now have the lowest death rate, at 10 deaths per day per 100,000.

The Los Angeles City Council is looking to crack down on people who refuse to mask up as mandated under Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Safer at Home” order. While mask scofflaws can face a fine of up to a $1,000 or six months in jail, there’s been little enforcement of the rule. Now, after local demonstrations by anti-mask groups at shopping malls, grocery stores and homeless encampments, the council moved Wednesday to buttress restrictions and stiffen financial penalties.

In a unanimous vote, the council moved to order city attorneys to draft a law that would impose fines and penalties on those who won’t wear masks at indoor businesses when requested to do so by management, and on individuals who eschew face coverings when “invading someone’s personal space.”


“Maskless protesters are going up to people, getting into people’s faces and deliberately using the fact that they are not wearing a mask as an act of aggression,” said Councilman Mike Bonin, who introduced the measure.

Until now, the city has been primarily focused its enforcement efforts on noncompliant businesses and party houses, officials said. Case in point: This week, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power cut utilities to a Fairfax district home where at least three parties were held in violation of the city’s ban on large gatherings. The utilities will stay off until the mayor’s office orders them to be turned back on, a DWP spokeswoman said.

1-12-21 TIERS MAP
A description of the tiers California uses to determine when counties can let businesses open.

See the latest on California’s coronavirus closures and reopenings, and the metrics that inform them, with our tracker.

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Around the nation and the world

In response to the pandemic and the worsening economic crisis, President-elect Joe Biden is proposing a $1.9-trillion plan to combat the nation’s public health and economic emergencies. It’s a move that showcases a faith in the power of the federal government to solve problems, my colleagues Janet Hook and David Lauter write.

In a speech to the nation Thursday night, Biden called for quick congressional action on his sweeping package, which will include steps to expedite the production and distribution of vaccines. There’s also an extra $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, expanded unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments and an expansion of aid to families with children.

“It is a national emergency, and we need to treat it like one,” said a senior Biden official. “The president-elect has a comprehensive plan that will throw the full weight and resources of the federal government behind managing the crisis.”

Another COVID-19 vaccine candidate is showing signs of progress. Johnson & Johnson’s experimental one-shot vaccine generated a long-lasting immune response in an early safety study. More than 90% of participants made immune proteins within 29 days after receiving the shot, and all of them formed the antibodies within 57 days, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The immune response lasted the full 71 days of the trial. That puts the vaccine in the same range as the two-dose regimens from Pfizer and Moderna, Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientific officer said. The company should learn within weeks how its vaccine performed in a late-stage trial of 45,000 volunteers.

Along with requiring just one dose, the J&J vaccine has another advantage: It can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for three months. The Pfizer and Moderna doses, by contrast, must be frozen.


In Europe, officials are making liberal use of curfews in an effort to fight the spread of the virus. Large swaths of eastern France face restrictions on movement from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., prohibiting all manner of work, socializing, after-school clubs and most evening shopping. “At 6 p.m., life stops,” says Champagne producer Alexandre Prat. It’s the strictest of the European curfews so far: The one in Italy runs from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., as does the one in Latvia that‘s in effect from Friday night to Sunday morning.

Critics of the French curfew say it forces more people together because they all must cram into public transportation, clog roads and shop for groceries in a narrow rush-hour window before the deadline. “It’s a scramble so everyone can be home by 6 p.m.,” one Marseille resident said.

Researchers with the World Health Organization have arrived in China to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though it’s not clear whether Beijing will try to prevent any potentially embarrassing discoveries. The team went to Wuhan, the city where the novel coronavirus was first detected, after months of diplomatic wrangling with President Xi Jinping’s government that triggered an unusual public complaint by the WHO’s leader.

China rejected demands for an international investigation after the Trump administration blamed Beijing for the virus’s spread. The Chinese government has tried to stir up confusion about the coronavirus’ origins — including promoting theories that the outbreak might have started with tainted seafood imports. (That notion has been shot down by international scientists and agencies.)

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: How soon can I get vaccinated?

Obviously, this is on the minds of many readers who are eager to find out how to get their shots. The truth is it’s going to be a little chaotic and unclear for a while yet, particularly if you‘re not part of a group that’s currently eligible for vaccination. My colleague Jessica Roy has a helpful roundup of resources for residents of several Southern California counties.


If you are a healthcare worker in L.A. County, you are eligible for the vaccine now — and you don’t have to be a front-line medical worker to qualify. Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities also qualify. See the county’s complete list here.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that all Californians 65 and older are now eligible for the vaccine — but distribution is being carried out at the county level, and L.A. County says it hasn’t vaccinated enough people in higher-priority groups to start offering shots to folks over 65. That means it could be weeks before all L.A. County seniors could get their shots.

That’s not the case in Orange County, where residents 65 and older can sign up for an appointment through Othena. The county’s healthcare agency said in a tweet that more than 10,000 people signed up on the first day it was available.

If you want to sign up to find out when you actually can get a vaccine in L.A. County, visit Carbon Health’s website and enter your line of work, date of birth and answer whether you have COVID-related health risks. You’ll be prompted to schedule an appointment if you’re eligible, and to join the waitlist if you aren’t.

You can also go to the website for the county’s public health department, enter your email in the box to the left, and click “submit.” You’ll be signed up for the county’s COVID-19 vaccine newsletter, which will include updates and information on which groups are eligible.

Here are links to information for other counties beyond L.A.:

We want to hear from you. Email us your coronavirus questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them.



Practice social distancing using these tips, and wear a mask. Here’s how to do it right.

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Need to get tested? Here’s where you can in L.A. County and around California.

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