Los Angeles health officials hope mass vaccination sites like the one opened Friday at Dodger Stadium will turn the tide in a county ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.
LOS ANGELES (CN) – Glistening in the morning light, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles was quiet Friday save a long procession of cars snaking around its parking lot. Workers with masks and face visors flag down the drivers and with muffled voices desperately try to usher in the next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic — the rollout of vaccines.
The process in LA County has been slow.
Dodger Stadium opened Friday morning as one of five large-scale mass-vaccination centers in the county set to come online in the next several days. Health officials say each site will be able to vaccinate approximately 4,000 people a day. But only health care workers and residents and staffers of skilled nursing homes are eligible.
When all the sites are open, LA will have the ability to administer around 20,000 vaccines a day, but a shortage on the national stockpile leaves many wondering if the county will even get that many.
“The short answer is: I don’t know,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Friday during a press briefing. “It’s not a problem with the state, not a problem here locally. We don’t have the supply coming in.”
Garcetti spoke to the incoming Biden administration to discuss that supply shortage and he expects manufacturing to be ramped up across the country in the coming weeks.
“As soon as we know, we plan on communicating that with members of the public,” Governor Gavin Newsom said during a press briefing at Dodger Stadium with Garcetti. “Let me just say briefly: Our resolve is to get all of the existing doses that are in this state administered as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We still have a lot of work to do.”
California has ordered hundreds of thousands more vaccines, but developments on Friday have shrouded any future shipments. Alex Azar, secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, told governors across the nation earlier this week that the federal government would release strategic reserve of vaccines. The truth is that reserve did not exist.
As of Friday, California has received a little over 3 million doses, severely short of the amount needed for the Golden State.
Between 700,000 to 800,000 health care workers in the county can receive the Covid-19 vaccine. The aim is to vaccinate roughly 500,000 health care workers by the end of the month, but as of Wednesday just 194,000 doses have been administered, including 44,000 second doses.
The hope is the mass-vaccination sites will pick up the slack. Health officials estimate it won’t be until mid-May or early June before the rest of LA County becomes eligible to receive the vaccine.
“In LA County we have to vaccinate 10 million people, twice,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “These large-scale vaccination sites are going to help us get there by massively increasing our capacity to vaccinate people quickly and efficiently.”
The vaccine plans arrive nearly one year after the virus was first recorded in LA County. Since then, health officials have recorded nearly 980,000 infections and over 13,200 deaths.
In addition to being behind schedule, the county is also short on supplies. Other counties have already administered the required two doses of the vaccine to priority groups.
In nearby Orange County, Disneyland Resort opened its own mass-vaccination site Wednesday to residents aged 65 and older. This means residents in Orange County and other parts of the state will have received their vaccines while more populated areas like LA County struggle to keep up.
“We are playing catchup a little bit,” said Dr. Shira Shafir, associate professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in a phone interview. “We have a lot of work to do with distributing the vaccines to those who need it the most.”
That includes health care workers who have been working through the worst of the pandemic in emergency rooms and intensive care units.
Part of the problem has been a lack of coordination between state and federal agencies.
“Municipalities are trying to invent their own wheel,” Shafir said.
There has also been plenty of confusion and mixed messages at the state level.
This week, Governor Gavin Newsom opened the vaccination process to all Californians 65 and older. But his mandate means millions more were suddenly added to the eligibility list even as counties like LA struggle to vaccinate the first phase of health care workers.
“Of course, nurses and doctors who have been working during the worst of this want to see everyone get vaccinated. But they don’t want to lose their place in line,” Shafir said.
As county officials struggle to get more vaccines, they are also racing against the clock as a more contagious variant that originated in the United Kingdom could soon explode in the United States.
LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer worries the new variant — which while more contagious does not appear to be more lethal — could become widespread locally in the next few months.
“As we look ahead, we’re aware of the looming challenge posed by the very real probability that the U.K. variant may become more prevalent here in the United States,” said Ferrer. “Current projections by the experts predict if left unchecked, this variant could dominate locally by March.”