While coping with continued scarcity of supply, Los Angeles County reported slow but steady progress in COVID-19 vaccination efforts Friday, but less than 3% of the population has been fully vaccinated, and appointments for first doses will be difficult to come by next week.
In fact, at the five county-operated large-scale vaccination sites, a limited number of first doses will be administered on Monday, with the rest of the week’s appointments reserved solely for people in need of their second dose of the medication, according to Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health.
Simon said while the issue applies solely to the county’s five mega-sites, residents may run into issues at other locations, as all providers deal with short supplies of vaccines.
Cheating has also become a problem.
The slow progress of the vaccination program has led to some residents getting creative in finding ways to manipulate the appointment system to get access to the shots.
Some people who aren’t yet eligible to get the vaccine have taken to lingering at vaccination sites on the slight chance there will be leftover doses at the end of the day that must be administered to avoid wasting them. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week there have been issues with people claiming to be caretakers of disabled children and showing up at vaccine sites with a generic, Xeroxed letter identifying them as such.
Simon on Friday outlined another way some people have tried to jump the line to get vaccines. According to Simon, people who received emails from the county about scheduling an appointment for a second dose of the vaccine have been sharing the unique web link included in the emails with friends. Those people “are then scheduling a first-dose appointment even though they are not eligible to be vaccinated at this time.”
“It is important for people to understand that these actions are taking away vaccination access from high-risk people who are eligible for the vaccine right now,” Simon said. “When we identify these appointments, they are being canceled. I want the public to be aware that persons who are not eligible and show up at one of our sites with one of these shared appointments will be turned away.”
He said he didn’t have numbers on how many people have tried to jump the line in that fashion, but “it was happening enough so that we were noticing it very clearly.”
“In some cases it was done very deliberately — I think you could characterize it as cheating,” he said. “And in other cases, I think people just, you know, weren’t necessarily viewing it that way, they were just looking at every opportunity to get vaccinated.”
Simon said the county was trying to figure out a way to amend the computer system to prevent such appointments from being made.
“Unfortunately, the biggest issue we continue to face in our ability to vaccinate is the scarcity of supply and variability in the amount of vaccine we receive from week-to-week,” Simon said. “This has been an issue across the country and it makes planning challenging.”
According to Simon, the most recent figures indicate that more than 1.05 million vaccine doses have been administered in the county to date, including just more than 104,000 second doses. That means 2.6% of the county’s population of people aged 16 and older have been fully vaccinated so far. About 11% over the 16-and-over population has received at least one dose.
According to Simon, the county received 184,625 doses of vaccine this week, and Ferrer said earlier this week the county anticipates a larger allotment next week, possibly over 200,000, but the size of the shipments week-to-week remain a mystery.
Simon expressed hope that supplies would continue to increase, and hailed the pending establishment of a Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination site at Cal State Los Angeles, which will supplement the local availability of doses. The possible approval in coming weeks of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine will also be a major boon he said.
As of mid-afternoon Friday, the county had not yet released its daily COVID-19 case numbers.
On Thursday, the county reported 239 deaths, although 16 of those fatalities were actually announced late Wednesday by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. Long Beach added 11 more deaths Thursday afternoon, while Pasadena reported five. The new deaths lifted the overall countywide death toll since the pandemic began to 17,555.
But while deaths continue to mount, other signs that the surge has eased are evident in the downward trajectory of new daily infection numbers and hospital populations.
The county reported another 5,028 cases Thursday, easily half of the daily average being reported in early January. Long Beach added 221 more cases Thursday, and Pasadena 36. The new cases pushed the overall county total during the pandemic to 1,134,595.
According to state figures, there were 4,607 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the county as of Friday, including 1,276 people in intensive care. In early January, the hospitalization number topped 8,000.
The continued drop in hospitalization numbers — not just in Los Angeles County but across the state — prompted the California Department of Public Health on Friday to cancel a Hospital Surge Order it issued in early January. That order required hospitals in counties with severely limited ICU capacity to delay some non-essential and non-life-threatening surgeries.
Meanwhile, Simon on Friday again echoed the call for residents to stay home and avoid parties on Super Bowl Sunday.
“This fall and winter we have learned painful and tragic lessons about what gatherings and celebrations can lead to in terms of transmission of COVID-19 that ultimately results in a great deal of serious illness and death,” he said. “We implore everyone to stay home, to not gather and do everything you can to prevent transmission of the virus.”
Health officials have repeatedly pointed to sports events last year — specifically the Dodgers’ World Series championship run and the Lakers’ NBA Finals victory — as contributing to spread of the virus. Simon conceded that there’s no hard data that proves sports celebrations caused rapid spread, but said the timing of the county’s surge in cases made it pretty clear.
“As I mentioned earlier, it’s very hard to pinpoint where everyone first acquired their infection, given that the incubation period is two to 14 days,” he said. “But just looking at the timing and knowing what we know about this virus, we feel it’s a pretty safe conclusion that those sorts of events did contribute to the surge.”