When Riverside County opened up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to residents aged 65 and older in addition to essential workers this week, it took just two hours for all appointment slots to fill up, officials said Saturday.
Now supervisors from the county of 2.4 million, including about 343,000 aged 65 or older, are saying there aren’t enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to meet demand.
“This is not a volunteer issue. This is not a venue issue. This is a vaccine issue,” county Supervisor Karen Spiegel said in a statement. “We’ve had plans in place for mass distribution for some time. Plans and places are not the concern. We do not have enough vaccine available to meet the demand.”
The county has made the vaccines available to essential workers like educators, dentists, mortuary staff, food and agriculture workers, pharmacy staff and those in emergency services — in addition to frontline health care workers and older residents.
That means there’s more than 700,000 people in the county currently eligible to receive the vaccine, according to county estimates.
But Riverside County has so far only received 114,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, nearly 80% of it already sent out to vaccine distribution sites like hospitals and pharmacies.
The county opened new walk-up vaccine clinics Thursday at Corona High School, Heritage High School in Menifee and San Gorgonio Middle School in Beaumont. And on Saturday, a drive-up vaccine clinic at Lake Elsinore’s Diamond Stadium opened only for residents aged 65 and older.
More than 5,600 people booked an appointment to receive their dose Wednesday, and another 11,000 booked Friday.
Clinic appointments are currently all full until Jan. 22, according to the county’s appointment site.
“This is a time when we need to work together and not direct focus to areas that are not the problem,” said Supervisor V. Manuel Perez. “This is a supply and demand problem. We continue to seek help from our federal and state partners to increase the amount of vaccine we receive here in Riverside County.”
Standing at a new mass coronavirus vaccination site in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he didn’t know how many doses the state can expect to get.
Counties have been racing to set up large COVID-19 vaccine sites, including L.A. County, which is set to open five new sites on Tuesday.
But officials have stressed that supplies remain scarce and who’s eligible varies by county.
While L.A. County is still limiting vaccine eligibility to only health care workers and those in nursing homes, nearby Orange County has begun vaccinating those 65 and older, and so has San Bernardino County.
Complicating vaccine distribution is the fact that it’s been hard to predict how many doses will be given to the county, L.A. County Department of Public Health Chief Science Officer Dr. Paul Simon said Friday.
“We’ve not really known week-to-week how much vaccine we’re gonna get,” he said. “And so that makes long range planning particularly very challenging.”
Riverside County officials told residents to ask their health care providers or pharmacies when they expect to have the vaccine. Those eligible for the vaccine in the county can also sign up to get their shots at Albertsons Pharmacy, Apple Urgent Care and Ralphs Pharmacy.