State and county health officials in California face considerable challenges with storing and administering Covid-19 vaccines, a task that experts say should not distract from equitably distributing doses to those most vulnerable.
LOS ANGELES (CN) — After receiving her first dose of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine Friday at a distribution site nestled between palm trees of a Los Angeles park, health care worker Ana Giron finally brushed away some of the stress and anxiety she’s carried since the start of the pandemic.
Giron, who works at a dental clinic in Pasadena, waited 20 minutes for the first of two required doses, but she’s waited months to take this step towards immunization for a virus that has killed nearly 360,000 Americans to date.
“I’m at least a little bit hopeful that this will help us,” Giron said in an interview with Courthouse News. “I have underlying health conditions, too, including diabetes, so I’m feeling good about it. This has been a very stressful time.”
The nation’s decentralized rollout of the two Covid-19 vaccines approved for use — made by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, respectively — has brought hope that society will return to some semblance of normalcy this year.
But distribution of the vaccines, which in California is done in several phases and prioritizes first doses for health care workers and people at risk of becoming severely ill from the virus, has lagged considerably.
Nationwide, about 6.7 million Americans have received a vaccine dose according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far below the Trump administration’s plan to immunize 20 million people by the end of 2020.
President-elect Joe Biden has promised to speed up distribution, announcing Friday he’ll release almost all available doses in the U.S., a move that follows experts’ advice to get the first dose into as many Americans’ arms as possible.
Even before taking office, Biden has set a goal of immunizing 100 million Americans in his first 100 days.
The CDC has projected that close to 90 million people will be vaccinated by March, still under one third of Americans and far less than the 70% officials say is needed to reach herd immunity.
California’s Vaccine Rollout
In California, where nearly 29,000 have died from Covid-19, vaccine rollout has been beset by a number of issues that bring into focus challenges that come with such a gargantuan effort.
Administering doses quickly and efficiently has been a challenge: California has received just over 2 million vaccine doses but only administered about 652,000 of them as of Jan. 8.
Vaccine doses are also lower than anticipated, with officials estimating they won’t have enough doses to immunize “most” residents of its 58 counties until the summer.
California joined five other states this week in a letter demanding the Trump administration release a vaccine stockpile — reportedly 50% of the country’s supply — that it’s chosen to reserve for the required second dose for individuals who received a first shot.
Lags are also tied to ultra-low temperature storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine, a shortage of vaccination sites and staff to administer doses and a delay in setting up systems to track who is immunized and where they live.
Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director of California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, told Courthouse News the hiccups in vaccine distribution aren’t a surprise given the unprecedented circumstances officials are working in.
Still, Savage-Sangwan believes California needs to ensure people understand and trust vaccinations and work to make doses more rapidly available to communities with histories of inequitable access to care.
“We also need to be thinking about who's getting it and how to ensure equity,” Savage-Sangwan said of vaccinations. “We should be prioritizing those who have the highest risk of getting seriously ill or dying. In low-income communities of color, people should be getting it immediately.”