Here's Why Getting A Coronavirus Vaccine In LA County Is So Hard
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.
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.
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.
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.
Got both doses at LAC+USC Medical Center. Dec 21st, Jan 11th.— Glenn wears a mask 😷🚴♂️🚴♀️🍺🍷👍 (@GlennC1) January 20, 2021
During first dose I was given a card with the first dose date and the date to return for my second.
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.
No, they just told me to schedule later...I tried signing up for the notifications but not sure what to do, worried about getting an appointment now. Got it at a LAFD managed site in San Fernando.— Hal (@adapt_able) January 20, 2021
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.
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.
I just scheduled my first dose today in Ventura county and through the process it seems like I have to schedule my own second dose. It’s not automatically scheduled for me.— Lina 🌻 (@partclina) January 20, 2021
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.
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.
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