Support for LAist comes from
True LA stories, powered by you
Stay Connected

Share This

News

Here's Why Getting A Coronavirus Vaccine In LA County Is So Hard

6001f2ca3d7c92000901b431-eight.jpg
A CORE employee directs a driver tward the vaccination site at Dodger Stadium on the first day of vaccinations. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
Our reporting is free for everyone, but it’s not free to make.
LAist only exists with reader support. If you're in a position to give, your donation powers our reporters and keeps us independent.

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

By Emily Guerin and Jackie Fortiér

In California, anyone over 65 years old can now receive a coronavirus vaccine. But L.A. County has far from enough doses for everyone who is eligible. That's because the county prioritizes those people getting second doses, so fewer people are receiving their first-round injection.

But scheduling a second dose has also proven to be complicated.

Support for LAist comes from

THE MATH BEHIND THE DOSES

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday that her department needs four million doses to vaccinate every resident currently eligible. Instead, the county has received less than 900,000 so far.

"This is what I mean by a serious supply problem," Ferrer told reporters. "We just are not receiving enough vaccine doses to move as quickly as we, and you, would like us to."

Currently, public health officials find out each Tuesday night or Wednesday morning how many doses of the vaccine they'll be sent by the state. Then, they calculate how many people need a second dose.

"Everybody who's given a first dose is guaranteed that they will get allocated that second dose," she said.

Support for LAist comes from

That means in a given week, the county may use nearly all its weekly vaccine allocation on second doses, leaving few appointments for new, first-time vaccinations.

6008d64b3d7c92000901b92b-eight.jpg
Courtesy LA County Public Health

Next week, for example, the county will receive 143,900 doses. It is reserving 106,000 for second dose vaccinations. That leaves just 37,900 for new people to get vaccinated.

SECOND DOSE CONFUSION

Ferrer said most people should be given an appointment for their second dose when they go to get their first shot.

Support for LAist comes from

Indeed, many people LAist spoke with said they received a date and time for their second dose upon leaving the vaccination site. But others left their first appointment with no idea when, or how, to schedule their second injection.

Christina Camacho, an in-home supportive services caregiver for her grandmother, received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine at the city of L.A.'s Lincoln Park Recreation Center on Jan. 5.

While she was waiting in the recovery area, a nurse told her to scan a QR code taped to a wall. The code took her to a form on calvax.org, the state's vaccine scheduling portal, to make an appointment for her second dose on Feb. 2.

"It was so easy. Probably the easiest part of the entire process," she said.

But when Hal Tyler, a therapist in Glendale, received his first dose on Jan. 9 in San Fernando Park, he said no one told him how to make a second appointment.

He happened to spot a QR code in the recovery area, scanned it, and was taken not to a second-dose appointment site, but to a CDC website called "V-Safe," where he signed up to receive texts about possible side effects of the vaccine. The website explicitly states it does not schedule appointments for follow-up doses.

Later, after Tyler started to worry, he attempted to make an appointment for a second dose through L.A. County's website, but all the appointments were taken.

Now, he's concerned he might not get one in time.

"I haven't seen anything about a second dose. And I don't know if there's more I have to do," he said.

Ferrer told reporters Wednesday that she's aware of people such as Tyler, who she described as part of "a small number" of healthcare workers who have been unable to schedule an appointment for their second dose. She said the county would contact them with a date to return for another dose.

OTHER COUNTIES

The confusion over second doses isn't limited to L.A. County's vaccination sites. LAist spoke with two Ventura County residents who weren't sure when to come back for a second dose.

Eddie Garcia received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 12 through the Ventura hospital where he works, but hasn't heard anything about a second dose.

"I'm hoping that I will be contacted for the second dose the same way I was contacted for the first," he said. "If not, I guess I'll be in line with everyone else trying to get an appointment."

A spokesperson for Ventura County later explained to LAist that people who receive a first dose through a county site should check the email they used to register for a message about how to sign up for their second dose.

It's a similar situation in Orange County, where people who made an appointment for their first dose through the county's website, Othena.com, will receive an email 3-5 days before their second dose is due. They can choose a clinic location, time and date. County health officials say anyone who got a first dose elsewhere should contact that provider for information about a second dose.

PASADENA'S STRATEGY

Still other public health agencies are managing their second doses completely differently than L.A. County.

In Pasadena, which has its own public health department, everyone who receives the first dose of the Moderna vaccine at a city location is given an appointment 28 days later for a second dose, said the city's public information officer Lisa Derderian.

But unlike L.A. County, which prioritizes second doses at the expense of vaccinating new people, Pasadena is pushing first time doses out the door as fast as possible and betting that vaccine distribution will be ramped up in time to provide second doses to people who need them in a few weeks.

If Pasadena health officials lose that bet, Derderian said the city may need to contact people to delay their appointment.

Derderian said the city was waiting on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how long they could delay a second dose.

Currently, the CDC states patients should get their second shot "as close to the recommended 3-week or 1-month interval as possible. However, there is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine. You should not get the second dose earlier than the recommended interval."

Experts say people who only have one dose have much lower protection from the virus than if they had both of the doses.

Derderian said Pasadena chose to pursue this strategy to try to comply with Governor Newsom's mandate to make vaccines available to everyone over 65.

"We don't have a choice," Derderian said. The state, she added, is "telling you not to save for the second dose and use what you have on hand immediately."

In the meantime, Pasadena is asking the state for help by turning the Rose Bowl into a massive vaccine site.

2:12 p.m.: This article was updated with the information on Ventura County's process.

READ MORE ABOUT LOCAL VACCINATION EFFORTS:

WE LOVE TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS