UPDATED with latest: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says the city tomorrow will exhaust its supply of first-dose Moderna COVID vaccines and as a result the giant Dodger Stadium vaccination site and other city locations will be closed Friday and Saturday.
“This week we only received 16,000 new doses. That’s about the number of new doses we give out every single day,” he said. “That is down 90,000 from the week before. That is unacceptable.”
“I’m not here to point fingers,” said Garcetti, who was a fundraising chair for the Joe Biden Presidential Campaign. “As always, I’m here to be a partner. But I want to be clear: Los Angeles needs more doses.” The mayor promised to “fight” for more vaccine.
Los Angeles’ five city-run vaccination sites have administered 98% of the doses the city has received, said the mayor. The city is averaging about 13,051 doses administered per day, with a total of 293,252 doses administered so far.
In his first address on the topic as president, Biden had promised to provide a three-week window of visibility on forthcoming supplies so that states, cites and counties could better plan their operations. Garcetti’s words on Wednesday evening seem to be a very public indication that the nation’s second-largest metropolis is not getting that visibility.
Add to that the recent push by an embattled California Governor Gavin Newsom to quickly expand the number of vaccination sites — from drug stores like CVS to super sites like those at stadiums where the Oakland A’s and San Diego padres usually play — and the distribution network may be undergoing growing pains.
“It is a little bit of Hunger Games out there,” said Garcetti. “We’re doing kind of an ‘all the above approach.’ I think part of this is we’ve gone to so many places without the supply matching that, that you’ve seen some of the core places…like ours and the county mega sites not have as much supply.
“I think that everybody wants to come in and save the day and I admire that. That means I’m working with partners who have the same motivation as me,” noted the mayor. “But it would be good for somebody to kind of take that 50,000-foot view, look at the metrics of the places like our sites that are knocking it out of the park, that have efficient centers, where they’re well staffed up, where we get 98% of the doses out, where we have mobile clinics alongside that…[and] reward us. Reward those places that are working before we build more architecture for doses that don’t exist.”
That logic was seemingly at odds with one laid out by the Governor on Tuesday. As he introduced an new mass vaccination site at the Padres’ stadium in San Diego Newsom maintained, “Sites like this give people a false sense of what we’re doing. Most vaccinations are delivered at small sites. The backbone of this distribution strategy are thousands and thousands of small providers…I want to encourage you not to be misled by these sites.”
Garcetti, for his part, said if Los Angeles receives enough supply, the city’s sites can complete 5 million vaccinations by July. But that promise is restrained by supply.
Garcetti also said it wasn’t clear why the city received so few doses this week.
“Doesn’t mean we haven’t asked, doesn’t mean the state isn’t trying. But you know the federal government is saying 11 million doses are going out. There’s something screwed up in the system,” he said.
“I’m not pointing fingers, I’m here to help, but I need everybody to help me too so that we aren’t put in that position of suddenly going dark on the biggest vaccination center in the world.
“In a briefing from our county partners this morning,” said the mayor, “we learned that other cities with smaller populations are receiving more doses than our entire county with a larger population. When we look to places that have lower cases, we see 50% more doses going to other cities. I don’t want to take a single dose away from them, but if only fair that Los Angeles gets a steady supply to meet the moment of our need.”
It was unclear if the shortage also impacts L.A. County vaccination sites, but Garcetti’s announcement comes just hours after county officials announced they would expand the pool of residents eligible for vaccines, even though only 20% of seniors have had their first shot. County officials did not mention a similar massive shortage in the region.
PREVIOUSLY: Even though they have been a priority for weeks now, only 20% of Los Angeles County residents aged 65 and over have received even one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to county health officials.
And though supplies of the medication remain woefully low, Los Angeles County will expand vaccinations to an array of essential workers in two to three weeks, including teachers, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday.
The move follows a call by Governor Gavin Newsom in late January for shots to be offered to workers in three categories: education/child care; food and agriculture; and emergency services and law enforcement.
In Los Angeles County, those categories represent roughly 1.3 million people, meaning that even after they become eligible for the shots, it will take weeks to get all of them fully vaccinated, which requires two doses spaced out by three to four weeks.
The expansion of the vaccine eligibility will occur even as the county announced it would only be administering second doses this week due to vastly inadequate vaccine supplies.
Newsom said the state will receive 1.2 million doses this week. Only 540,000 of those are first doses, however. The majority have already been assigned as second doses. “We need to see more doses coming into the state to keep these sites up and running,” said Newsom.
On Monday, Ferrer said LA’s situation was even more desperate. For the remainder of this week at County vaccination sites she said, “All we’re able to offer is second dose appointments.” In a county of 10 million with new variants circulating, that’s a problem.
What’s worse, about 6,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine were potentially spoiled at the Soka University Super POD vaccination site in Aliso Viejo on Wednesday due to a malfunctioning refrigerator.
Asked about the wisdom of expanding the pool of recipients given the supply issues and outstanding need among currently-approved recipients, Ferrer said, “We’re trying to follow along with what’s happening across the state…In some counties, smaller counties or smaller cities, they’ve been able already to start vaccinating in those sectors, and they also have not completed vaccinations for all of their folks who are 65 and older.
“At this point, we’d like to make significant inroads into getting people who are older vaccinated,” she said. “Our hope is that over these next two weeks you’re going to see that number go way up in terms of the number of older people who are getting vaccinated. But also it’s an acknowledgement
that we do have to get started with some of our essential workers. It’s gonna be really difficult to wait weeks and weeks and weeks until we complete an entire sector before we move on.”
Representatives from an array of sectors have been pressuring state and local officials to make the vaccines available, creating what Ferrer conceded was a difficult process of deciding who will come first. The issue of getting teachers vaccinated has become a major issue in recent days amid pushes by Gov. Gavin Newsom and some local officials to get students back in classrooms. But Los Angeles Unified teachers and the superintendent have said teachers and staff need to be vaccinated before that can happen, despite the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying otherwise.
Ferrer pointed out Wednesday that 1,700 schools opened last fall in the county with limited numbers of students, and another 300 are operating under a waiver program that allowed younger students to return to campuses, and “we saw very few outbreaks” of the virus, and those that did occur were small
and easily contained.
The county reported another 141 deaths due to the coronavirus Wednesday, lifting the overall death toll to 18,500.
Another 3,434 cases were also reported, raising the total number from throughout the pandemic to 1,155,309.
Deaths and cases have been trending downward in recent weeks as the county recovers from the winter surge in cases, as have hospitalizations. According to state figures, there were 3,772 people hospitalized due to COVID in Los Angeles County as of Wednesday, and 1,105 people in intensive care. That’s a dramatic drop from early January, when there were more than 8,000 people hospitalized.
Ferrer said the decline cases is hopeful, but she tempered the optimism.
“Our optimism around this decrease is cautious,” she said. “The number is still more than three times the average daily case rates we were reporting in September. And also, we’re at a time of the year when people may be more tempted to gather. It’s our hope that all residents are choosing to not get together with people from outside their household or to travel to celebrate the Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day or Presidents Day.”
City News Service contributed to this report.