In January, President Joe Biden promised to provide state and local health officials a three-week window into how many vaccine doses were on the way.
“Until now we’ve had to guess how much vaccine to expect for the next week, and that’s what the governors had to do: ‘How much am I getting next week?’ ” Biden said. “This is unacceptable. Lives are at stake here.”
As of Wednesday, that promise had not yet been fulfilled in the nation’s largest county.
“I don’t have any projections for what we’re getting [in the] next 2-3 weeks out,” said Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer in a call with reporters Wednesday. Not only that, Ferrer revealed that “We’ve been delayed in getting our numbers for next week.”
So while Biden promised last month that state and local officials would have a three-week window into their vaccine allotments to allow for site planning and appointment scheduling, one important local official says she doesn’t even have a one-week window.
But California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday seemed quite clear how many doses would be received the following week, putting the state’s total at 1.3 million doses, slightly up from last week. Newsom did not indicate if he had projections beyond that, but the state determines county allotments from the numbers given to it by the federal government, so the sticking point on next week’s figures seems to be at Newsom’s level.
Beyond that, missing projections may be the federal government’s doing — or not doing.
The governor sought today to “deeply recognize the need to provide more certainty in terms of supply going forward. And that’s exactly what we’re working on with the Biden administration.”
On March 1, Newsom is allowing the next phase of vaccinations to begin. In L.A. County, Ferrer estimated that will mean an additional 1.8 million workers to be vaccinated. To date, the county has administered about 1.5 million first doses and some 400,000 second doses. Given the delta between the two and the supply problems, adding another 1.8 million people to the eligibility roster could sow confusion as the county will likely continue prioritizing second doses before first doses wear off.
Chaos with vaccine distribution and planning have plagued the U.S. vaccine rollout since its inception. Los Angeles had to close its largest vaccination site last weekend because, by Wednesday, it had run out of doses. For two weeks running, the county has delivered mostly second doses because allocation numbers were not only wrong but significantly lower that promised.
“This week we only received 16,000 new doses,” said LA Mayor Eric Garcetti last week after the mega-site at Dodger Stadium closed. “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.” Obviously, the city is not getting Biden’s promised three-week window on coming vaccine allocations. And the rapid increase in vaccination sites is not helping.
“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.”
Asked about healthcare providers “holding back” shots to ensure they’d have a second dose available for each first dose administered, Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor to Biden’s Covid response team, said, “We want to be clear that we understand why health care providers have done that, but that it does not need to happen and should not happen.” That was on February 1.
Slavitt continued, “We completely understand that this has been a direct result of the lack of predictability many states and providers have had regarding how many doses that they would receive,” he said. “That’s one reason why last week we announced that the federal government will be providing a continual three-week window in the vaccines that will be shipped.”
But that window has not opened, and it’s left Angelenos befuddled.
A campaign by Newsom to increase the number of sites offering vaccine has not helped. While the governor’s effort will eventually lead to a vast vaccination network and standardized appointment-making, in the short term it has added yet another layer of bureaucracy for residents to navigate.
The county has a widespread network of vaccination sites. The city administers five more, including the giant Dodger Stadium location. On top of those sit the network of over 100 Rite Aid pharmacies and the state’s own recently announced mega-site at Cal State LA. Then there are the mobile clinics being dispatched to lesser-served neighborhoods. In all, according to county figures, they amount to 391 sites. Each of the entities listed above has its own appointment system. Very few of them actually have first doses on offer.
The county has the capacity for 500,000 appointment slots this week, according to an official statement, however there are only enough doses to distribute less than half that; a little over 211,000 appointments. That means Angelenos not only have to crawl multiple websites and cross reference to find the closest vaccination location, they also have to determine which of those locations actually has doses available.
Newsom launched MyTurn.ca.gov to serve as a one-stop shop for appointments, but as of Wednesday searches there were not registering many of the above mentioned sites.
He revealed Wednesday that the state expects 3 million doses per week by March 1 and 4 million per week by April 30, which would flood the aforementioned network with vaccine.
Ferrer seemed hopeful.
“I think we’re going to have a tough month in March,” she said Wednesday, “but things will get better. I think it’s safe to say that, barring some unforeseen calamity, that we will have much more vaccine in April.”