LOS ANGELES (CN) — The federal government mobilized two mass vaccination sites in California on Tuesday, marking a major policy shift against the Covid-19 pandemic with the White House taking the lead more than a year after the first cases were reported in the United States.
Vaccination efforts rolled out in early 2021 across the U.S. but have largely been managed by local and state government agencies. Those efforts have stumbled over supply shortages, data mismanagement, confusion with the registration process for those eligible to receive the vaccine and a glaring absence of the previous White House administration.
President Joe Biden promised to stand up 100 vaccination sites across the country in the coming months. The two new sites that opened in the cities of Oakland and Los Angeles on Tuesday will be supplied with vaccines directly from the federal government and will not cannibalize vaccines already coming into California, according to emergency officials.
Other mega-vaccine sites have gone up in LA County in the last month, including a site at Dodger Stadium that had to close early last week due to supply shortages. While these large-scale sites can administer over 12,000 vaccines a day, the bottleneck on available vaccines has tamped down progress.
“Supply is the issue,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom at California State University, Los Angeles, during a tour of the newly opened mega-vaccination site.
The system of vaccination sites being erected across the country is hampered by shortages with only the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines currently approved by the federal government said Newsom. Johnson & Johnson’s version of the vaccine is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under an emergency use authorization.
“When the spigot of supply turns back on with J&J, with more Moderna, more Pfizer, we can be sure that we have no limitations in terms how we organize the logistics and the network operation with data and with transparency,” said Newsom.
The LA and Oakland sites will serve as pilot projects as the program is ramped up and expanded to other parts of the country including New York and Texas, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) acting administrator Bob Fenton.
“These sites demonstrate how we can provide more opportunities for vaccination to the hardest hit communities and ensure everyone who wants a vaccine can get one,” Fenton said as a line of cars ambled through a maze of cones at Cal State LA on Tuesday morning.
The federal partnership marks a stark contrast between the Trump administration’s reliance on local governments to handle the Covid-19 crisis on their own. Biden’s promise to make Covid-19 a priority was established on the campaign trail ahead of the November election, while the Trump administration tried to play down the severity of the pandemic.
U.S. Representative Jimmy Gomez said having the Biden administration focus on Covid-19 makes all the difference in the world.
“As someone who has been fighting this since the beginning of the pandemic, I can tell you it’s a huge difference when you have a president in the White House who cares about equity,” said Gomez, who represents parts of LA in Congress.
The sites in LA and Oakland were chosen for their proximity to communities hardest hit by the pandemic. While the mega-sites are expected to administer up to 6,000 vaccines a day, they will also include two mobile vaccination clinics that will go into communities made up of people of color and low-income residents.
LA has reported over 1 million Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and over 19,000 deaths due to complications from the virus. Black and Latino residents and people in low-income communities account for a majority of the deaths.
Currently, residents 65 and older and health care workers are eligible to receive the vaccine, as are farmworkers, educators and emergency services workers where supplies are available. Most Californians who have received at least one dose of the vaccine are white (32%), according to state health data. Just 16% of the vaccines administered so far have gone into the arms of Latinos, while 13% have gone to Asian Americans and fewer than 3% have gone to Black residents.