In what Los Angeles County officials hope is the beginning of the end of severe COVID-19 vaccine shortages, the county next week will receive its largest vaccine allotment to date, with nearly two-thirds of the supply being used to administer first doses.
Dr. Paul Simon, the county Department of Public Health’s chief science officer, said the county will receive 312,000 doses of vaccine next week, including 53,700 doses of the newly authorized single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Of the allotment, 62% will be used for first doses — reversing a recent trend of most shots being reserved for people in need of their second dose.
As of Friday, 2,415,460 doses of vaccine have been administered in the county, Simon said. That includes 814,593 second doses, meaning that many people have been fully vaccinated.
Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city of Los Angeles has surpassed a half-million doses, with 511,698 shots administered as of Friday at city-run sites. The city has given out approximately 96% of its received supply, Garcetti said. The total doses represent more than 20% of the total vaccinations administered in L.A. County.
The increase in doses is welcome news in a county with increasingly large numbers of residents eligible to receive shots. Roughly 1.7 million essential workers, including teachers, became eligible this week, on top of the health care workers and residents aged 65 and over who were already eligible.
And starting March 15, Simon said the county will adhere to new state guidance that expands eligibility to everyone aged 16 to 64 with an underlying health condition that makes them susceptible to severe illness or death from COVID-19.
Simon said county officials, however, are still awaiting more guidance from the state on how to determine who will fall into that eligibility category.
“We’re a bit concerned because, you know, there are a number of health conditions on the list, and in addition, at the end of the list is a category of `disability’ which would allow someone to have eligibility, if the disability gets in the way, for example, of accessing medical services for COVID. And there are some other criteria, but I think that needs to be defined a little more clearly.”
He said that ideally, people with such disabilities or health conditions would be able to get the vaccine from their own doctors.
“At a large community (vaccine site), where people are presenting and we don’t know anything about their medical history, it’s challenging,” Simon said. “I think we might have to rely on a letter from the provider, of course, those letters could be forged.”
Although all COVID-19 numbers have been trending downward in recent weeks in the county, health officials on Friday again reported triple-digit deaths from the virus, announcing 144 fatalities. For the second day in a row, the number of new infections reported by the county topped 2,000, after nearly two weeks of sub-2,000 cases.
The new fatalities reported by the county, along with five announced by health officials in Long Beach and one by Pasadena increased the countywide COVID death toll to 21,916.
The 2,110 new infections announced by the county, along with 15 confirmed by Pasadena, lifted the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,200,135.
Health officials on Thursday issued another warning against leisure travel, in light of the upcoming Spring Break, stressing that anyone who travels out of the area is still required to quarantine for 10 days when they return to Los Angeles County.
“We may just be weeks away from reducing transmission in L.A. County enough so that additional reopenings are permitted,” Ferrer said in a statement Thursday. “However, with increased case numbers in other states, and more circulating variants of concern, spring travel can lead to another surge that frankly would be almost impossible to tolerate. Travel increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. To avoid this, please postpone travel and continue doing your part to slow the spread so that our recovery journey isn’t sidelined.”
Ferrer on Wednesday said the county has confirmed the first case of a COVID variant first discovered in Brazil, and the number of cases of a variant that originated in the United Kingdom has shot up to 27, a 50% jump from the 18 cases known as of last week. And a California variant is becoming increasingly dominant, with county officials detecting the mutation in 31 of 55 specimens that were specifically tested for it.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that the first cases of a New York variant have been detected in Southern California, although he did not specify where. The variants are all believed to be more easily passed from person to person, and federal authorities have expressed concern the New York variant may be more resistant to current vaccines.