There will be more vaccine doses going to people getting their second shot than those getting a first next week, but health officials say the pace of vaccinations is steadily increasing. Still, they urge residents to remain vigilant as variants of the virus could lead to another surge.
“More and more people are getting vaccinated in our county and cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decrease,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “In Europe and some regions of the U.S., there has been increases in cases and hospitalizations. With this in mind and given how easy COVID-19 can spread, it is critical we remain disciplined in our adherence to use face masks, physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and delaying any non-essential travel.”
Dr. Paul Simon, the county’s chief science officer, echoed a similar sentiment Friday, saying that the county is “making good progress” but is also “entering a perilous time.”
“For this reason it’s imperative that we remain disciplined,” Simon said.
More than 3.2 million vaccine doses have been administered in the county as of Wednesday, with more than 1 million of those being second doses, he said during a press briefing.
“In a sense it is a bit of a race,” Simon said. “We are trying to vaccinate as quickly as possible to slow further spread of these variants.”
The county anticipates receiving roughly 280,000 vaccine doses next week — with only about 6,000 of those being the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Simon said. He added that the county expects to “receive much larger quantities of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine beginning at the end of this month.”
According to Simon, approximately 45% of next week’s vaccine supply has been earmarked for first doses, with 55% for second doses.
“We will be providing first doses on Monday available to persons in all eligible sectors. However on Tuesday through Sunday, we will only be providing second doses,” Simon said.
In L.A. County, the shots are reserved for adults 65 and older, health care workers, educators, people who are incarcerated or living in homeless shelters, essential workers such as those in the food industry or emergency services, public transit workers and janitors, and residents 16 and older who have disabilities or underlying health conditions.
President Joe Biden pledged last week to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1, as supply is expected to be sufficient to meet demand.
On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom set a target of opening vaccine eligibility to all residents by early May.
Simon said for L.A. County to feel comfortable with eliminating the eligibility tiers, the county would need to receive about 1 million doses per week.
“We feel like if we get 1 million doses per week we are in pretty good shape to make everyone 16 and older eligible,” he said. “Particularly if a large amount of it is Johnson & Johnson, which only requires one dose, I think we could then work through that general adult population pretty quickly, within a month or two, given that we’re already pretty far along.”
L.A. County has also made progress in getting vaccines into the arms of the most vulnerable residents. More than half of the region’s residents fall under the lowest quartile of the California Healthy Places Index, a socioeconomic measurement tool. As of last week, roughly 49% of the county’s vaccine recipients came from these communities.
“We’re moving in the right direction, but we are still not moving fast enough given that 55% of county residents leave in these disadvantaged areas,” Simon said.
If vaccinations continue at the current pace and COVID-19 numbers continue to plummet, the county could be looking at entering the orange tier in about three weeks when case rates drop further, Simon predicted. But much depends on vaccine supplies and behavior.
“If people follow the rules we will be just fine. But if there is a breakdown in that, we can have a resurgence and the numbers could go back up,” Simon said. “We have to be sure we can take action if action is needed, but hopefully it won’t be.”
An additional 756 cases of COVID-19 and 60 deaths were reported Friday, bringing the county’s totals to more than 1.2 million positive cases and 22,722 deaths, the county’s Department of Public Health said in a news release.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Simon said 3.2 million people had been vaccinated in L.A. County, when it should have said Simon gave that figure for the number of doses administered. The post has been updated.