Frustration mounts over slow vaccine rollout in L.A. County amid high demand but ‘extremely limited’ supply

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As more residents in Los Angeles County can now sign up for vaccine appointments, health officials are reiterating supplies are “extremely limited,” with only a small number of doses available at each site giving shots next week.

“While there is great interest in the COVID-19 vaccine, and for good reason, the vaccine supply is still extremely limited. We want to urge everyone to have patience as we work urgently with our federal and state partners to expand capacity and supply in the weeks ahead,” L.A. County public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the county announced residents ages 65 and older would be able to sign up for a vaccine appointment beginning that afternoon but cautioned that supply is currently limited. 

Nearly three-quarters of the vaccination doses that the county received for the upcoming week will need to be used for second doses, according to the public health department.

The little bit that remains, along with any unused vaccines leftover from last week, will be all that’s available to use for appointments, officials said.

“We just are not receiving enough vaccine doses to move as quickly as we would like,” Ferrer said.

The county has been allocated 143,900 doses of the vaccine for the next week. However, the county needs 106,000 of those to administer second doses, leaving only 37,900 available countywide to administer as first doses, according to the department.

During a press briefing Wednesday, Ferrer apologized to county residents who experienced frustration when trying to book appointments for coronavirus vaccines after the county expanded eligibility to residents 65 and older.

Shortly after Tuesday’s announcement expanding access, the county’s website for making appointments, vaccinatelacounty.com, crashed amid excessive demand. 

When the website came back online several hours later, all appointments were booked by the evening.

While thousands of seniors were able to make appointments in the few hours they were available, far more were turned away, according to the county. 

Due to high demand, the county has added capacity to its call center and is working to improve its website. Ferrer urged those eligible to “keep checking our website, as there may be some cancellations.”

To address the technical issues, officials said the county would unveil a new online appointment system next week.

Health officials say the challenge the county faces is not one of process or capacity, but of supply. 

The county opened five more large-scale coronavirus vaccination sites Tuesday, with the capacity to inoculate 4,000 people at each location daily. That’s in addition to the city’s large-capacity site at Dodger Stadium, as well as community vaccination sites, pharmacies, federally qualified health clinics, medical providers and hospitals.

L.A. County would need more than 4 million vaccines to inoculate an estimated 1.4 million residents who are age 65 or older and about 700,000 to 800,000 health care workers twice. To date, the county has received 853,650 doses, according to Ferrer. 

“Our ability to protect even more L.A. County residents in the coming weeks and months is entirely dependent and constrained by the amount of vaccines we receive each week. And often, we do not know from one week to the next how many doses will be allocated to L.A. County,” she said. 

Meanwhile, the urgent demand for vaccinations in the county comes as the coronavirus claimed another 262 lives. As of Wednesday, a total of 14,384 people have died from COVID-19 in L.A. County. Another 6,492 cases were also reported, bringing the county’s total to more than 1 million confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

As of Wednesday, there were 7,253 L.A. County residents hospitalized due to COVID-19, 23% of them in intensive care units.

While hospitalization rates have been dipping, they were still far too high for hospitals to feel comfortable and the days were not yet far enough away from New Years to know whether another surge could still occur, officials said.

“You’ve seen a steady decline, 50 to 100 patients at hospitals overall, and that’s good news,” Ferrer said, “But having 7,300 patients with COVID across our hospital system is far more than it can manage in the long term.

“In the meantime, we must continue to do what we know is right — wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, wash hands, don’t mingle with people outside of your immediate household and sanitize everything,” Ferrer continued. “These tools are effective in slowing spread and keep people alive as we continue our vaccination efforts.”

To sign up for an appointment, visit vaccinatelacounty.com. Those without internet access can sign up via a call center at 833-540-0473 between 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., seven days a week. 

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