April 22, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Vaccinating Californians 65 and older may last till June, pushing back timetable for others

Vaccinating Californians 65 and over could take until June to complete, the state’s epidemiologist said Wednesday, raising new concerns about when other groups will be eligible for the vaccine and underscoring the rapidly dwindling COVID-19 vaccine stockpiles.

That timetable would push back vaccine access for people not currently on the priority list for at least four months, based on state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan’s estimate at a vaccine advisory committee meeting. The current priority list, in addition to older residents, includes healthcare industry workers and employees and residents of nursing homes.

The current pace could change if the federal government speeds up shipments beyond the current rate of 300,000 to 500,000 doses each week, Pan said. So far, the state has received roughly 4 million vaccine doses from the federal government.

“We don’t know when supply will be increasing,” Pan said during a vaccine advisory committee on Wednesday, noting that the state is not holding onto vaccine. The assessment is based on dosage levels for the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines, which each require two doses for efficacy. If allocation increases and distribution speeds up, or a new single-dose vaccine is approved, the timeline could change, she said.

In Los Angeles County, the picture was also clouded by shortfalls. The county needs more than 4 million doses to provide the two-dose vaccine protocol to all healthcare workers — an estimated 800,000 people — along with 1.3 million residents 65 and older, officials said.

But to date, the county has only received 853,650 doses. Once those 2.2 million residents on the current priority list are vaccinated, there’s another 8 million left — each of whom would need two doses of the current vaccines.

Next week the county will receive 143,900 doses, but 106,000 of those doses, more than 70%, are to be used for second doses for healthcare workers and others. That will leave only 37,900 for seniors and unvaccinated healthcare workers, according to the estimates by the officials.

“Our ability to protect even more L.A. County residents in the coming weeks and months is entirely dependent and constrained by the amount of vaccine we receive each week, and often, we do not know from one week to the next how many doses will be allocated to L.A. County,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a news conference Wednesday.

Ferrer said the county actually has a robust network of more than 200 healthcare providers, including hospitals, healthcare plans and pharmacies, ready to vaccinate the public. “We have a lot of potential in the system to really be able to push out lots of vaccines, but we don’t have lots of vaccines to push out,” Ferrer said.

And in the short term, L.A. County public officials have said they don’t expect the amount of vaccine the state receives and allocates to the county to drastically increase.

Dr. Seira Kurian, director of the L.A. County Health Public Department’s Division of Medical Affairs, said in a town hall Tuesday evening that 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.

Counties from around the state continued to report dwindling supplies. Officials in Fresno County had 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 officer, Dr. Rais Vohra, said.

A similar situation is playing out in San Francisco, where city officials warned Tuesday that vaccine availability would run out by Thursday because the city’s vaccine allocation dropped significantly from a week ago, and doses that had to be discarded were not replaced.

Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of public health, said at a news conference that the city received 12,000 doses a week ago and asked for the same number this week. Instead, the city received only 1,775 doses.

Pan, the state epidemiologist, said more doses will be available after the state releases its hold on a large batch of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. The state told healthcare providers on Sunday to temporarily stop using the specific lot of 330,000 doses after a “higher than usual” number of allergic reactions was reported.

Pan said that the state is “likely able to release that pause” following a review by the Scientific Safety Review Workgroup along with input from allergists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that an announcement on the decision is pending. The apparent allergic reactions occurred at a clinic in San Diego.

“The important thing that happened in this situation is that the right protocols were in place and all individuals are home and well,” Pan said.

Times staff writer Maura Dolan contributed to this report.