Coronavirus vaccination efforts in Los Angeles County will continue to focus on those who need second doses next week as supply remains limited, officials said Friday.
More than half of the roughly 220,000 doses the county received for next week will go toward second shots, though there will still be a “significant number” of first doses, said Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer at the county public health department.
Officials did not provide a specific breakdown of how many shots would be used for first versus second doses.
With the county continuing to receive a limited and variable amount of vaccine each week, eligible residents in communities most at risk will be prioritized for first doses, according to Simon.
Earlier this week, officials revealed only 3.5% of all doses given out in L.A. County have gone to Black residents. At 7.2%, Black residents have the lowest vaccination rate of all racial and ethnic groups 65 and older.
“We’re alarmed by the disproportionality we’re seeing in who has received the vaccine,” public health director Barbara Ferrer said
Simon acknowledged that officials prioritized volume in the initial rollout, saying they were under “great pressure to get folks vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Now, he says first doses will mainly be distributed to federally qualified health centers, pharmacies and other providers that serve the areas hardest hit by the pandemic.
Officials also opened 10 new vaccination sites this week in East L.A. and South L.A., raising the number of inoculation centers in those communities to 49. And next week, mobile vaccination sites will begin serving residents 65 and older in areas where people may have less access to the vaccine, according to Simon.
“We will continue to find ways to ensure that residents in the hardest hit areas and areas with the fewest resources can be vaccinated are reached,” he said.
While county health officials were delivering their update Friday, the California Department of Public Health announced providers can start offering vaccines to people age 16 to 64 with certain health conditions and disabilities on March 15.
Simon said the county would have to consider the implications of that expansion, “but it certainly means that there is even more now urgency to getting a greater supply of vaccine.”
The county does plan to expand eligibility to education and childcare workers, food and agriculture workers, and emergency services workers in two to three weeks, in accordance with state guidelines.
County officials said they are also awaiting state guidance after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s said Friday that schools in-person schooling can resume safely with masks and other preventative measures — even if teachers aren’t vaccinated.
For now, L.A. County is still only vaccinating health care workers, nursing home residents and staff and people age 65 and older.
Those groups represent about 2 million people altogether, and more than 1 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, Simon said.
So far, 3.8% of county residents 16 and older have been fully vaccinated.
City of L.A. vaccination sites had to close early this week when they ran out of shots, which were being used for first doses.
Simon said he expects vaccine supply to remain an issue for some time. The county has been receiving about 200,000 doses a week but has the capacity to administer up to 600,000 shots weekly.
“We’re all frustrated,” he said. “We know we could do much more if we had available doses.”
One glimmer of hope on the horizon is possible approval of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is set to meet Feb. 26 to discuss the results of the vaccine trial and make a recommendation.
“If this vaccine is approved for use, we are hopeful that it will help address some of the supply issues we’ve experienced,” Simon said.
In the meantime, the county continues to report about 3,500 new coronavirus cases each day amid concern about multiple virus variants considered more contagious now circulating in Southern California.
Another 137 virus-related deaths were confirmed in L.A. County Friday, bringing the pandemic total to 18,789 fatalities.
And more than 3,600 people are battling COVID-19 at county hospitals, with 30% in intensive care, according to the public health department.
Dr. Muntu Davis, the county health officer, warned against people getting a false sense of security from trends improving after the long winter surge.
“Our daily case counts remain high, which means that the risk of interacting with someone unknowingly infected with COVID-19 also remains high,” he said. “And not enough time has passed for us to know the impact of the Superbowl weekend.”