June 15, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Vaccine shortage could mean L.A. COVID shots last till 2022

Los Angeles County residents won’t be fully inoculated against COVID-19 until next year unless the supply of vaccines gets a major boost, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said this week.

Though he expressed optimism that the pace of vaccinations will accelerate as more doses become available and additional vaccines are approved, Garcetti acknowledged that the math is challenging in a county that some 10 million people call home.

Both therapeutics currently approved for public use in the United States — one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Moderna — require two doses administered weeks apart. So, Garcetti said, when you account for “the 7.5 million of the 10 million people that the Department of Public Health at the county level expects to get a vaccination,” you wind up with an overall need for 15 million doses.

By comparison, Garcetti said, the county has been receiving an average of about 160,000 doses a week.

Even with the 853,650 doses the county had received as of Wednesday, there’s still a daunting potential gap: 14.15 million. At the rate of delivery Garcetti cited, it would take about 88 weeks for enough vaccines to arrive to serve all Angelenos who need the shots.

“It is the truth unless we get more vaccine,” Garcetti said Thursday during a briefing at Dodger Stadium, which was recently transformed into a mass vaccination site. “I believe we will get some, but we can’t get it soon enough.”

Garcetti said he’s confident that manufacturers will be able to ramp up to meet the demand and that the potential arrival of additional vaccines undergoing review — including one from Oxford University and AstraZeneca and a single-dose offering developed by Johnson & Johnson — will boost the supply further.

“We are ready to do more here,” he said. “It’s going to be a sad day when I stand here saying, ‘Dodger Stadium has the capacity to take in 12,000 people, but we only have vaccines for 2,000.’”

Given the enormous need in the nation’s most populous county, even doling out doses to priority groups could be a months-long undertaking, unless the supply situation improves.

“If you take the calculation of what the county is getting each week — about 160,000 — and you just look at the number of healthcare workers and seniors, we won’t get through them until June,” Garcetti said.

Health officials across California have expressed frustration at the vaccine deliveries, saying they have plenty of capacity and personnel available but there are nowhere near enough shots to go around.

“We just are not receiving enough vaccine doses to move as quickly as we, and you, would like us to,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week.

Another problem is that the amount delivered to local health agencies has varied week by week, which officials say makes longer-term vaccination planning and appointment scheduling difficult, if not impossible.

Officials in San Francisco warned this week that the public health department was at risk of running out of COVID-19 vaccines after the city’s allocation dropped substantially from a week ago and doses that had to be set aside were not replaced.

While that situation was averted — thanks to California clearing the use of specific Moderna doses that were held for additional safety reviews — health officials said that “the city’s providers do not have sufficient vaccine supply to meet the current population that has been designated by the state to be vaccinated.”

Another factor in the vaccination conundrum is that the criteria for who can be vaccinated — and when — has been somewhat fluid.

While the state originally focused its efforts on healthcare workers and staff and residents of long-term living facilities such as nursing homes, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that people 65 and older were now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations — ballooning how many Californians could be inoculated, but also sparking confusion as some counties held off in the face of limited supplies.

Data on how many vaccines have been administered has also been hard to come by, and the numbers are often delayed. However, according to the California Department of Public Health, providers reported administering nearly 1.6 million doses statewide as of Tuesday.

Though there is growing optimism that California is finally beating back the coronavirus surge that has ravaged the state for months, the numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths remain high, and officials warn the progress is precarious.

Infection-prevention protocols, such as wearing masks in public, regular hand washing and avoiding gatherings with those outside your household remain vital as the vaccination effort ramps up, officials and experts say.

But every new dose, Garcetti said, is “a little bit more sunshine each day until, finally, the clouds have broken.”

“Every vaccine that we distribute here and in sites across our city and throughout our county is the beginning of the end of this terrible year that we’ve been living through,” he said. “It is the hope about days ahead. It is a cure toward a resurrected economy, toward a restored Los Angeles, kids back at school, loved ones close by — each dose an injection of hope in the future.”

Times staff writers Maura Dolan, Colleen Shalby, Hayley Smith and Maya Lau contributed to this report.