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As California Opens Vaccine Eligibility For Those 50-Plus, Supply Problems Persist

People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine outside the Sherman Heights Community Center on March 31, 2021.
John Carroll
People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine outside the Sherman Heights Community Center on March 31, 2021.
All of those 50 and older are eligible to get a COVID 19 vaccine, starting today. But, being eligible is just the first step on the road to getting vaccinated. Next up, is scheduling an appointment - that is riddled with technology challenges and not enough appointments to meet the need.

It’s been the big issue when it comes to getting a COVID-19 vaccine for months now: plenty of places to get a shot, but not enough supply. On Thursday, a lot more strain is going to be put on the supply when San Diegans aged 50 and older — around 400,000 of them — become eligible.

Scripps Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ghazala Sharieff told KPBS she is excited that more people will soon be able to get vaccinated. But her excitement is tempered by worry.

As California Opens Vaccine Eligibility For Those 50-Plus, Supply Problems Persist
Listen to this story by John Carroll.

“We still don’t know … in fact right before you called on me, I pinged the county to say, 'hey do we even know how many doses we’re going to get next week,' because it’s still a weekly thing," she said.

VIDEO: On The Eve Of People 50+ Becoming Eligible To Get Vaccine, Supply Problems Persist

That makes it difficult to do any planning. For Sharieff and her team, it’s meant having to close the Del Mar Fairgrounds site Scripps runs a number of times.

The supply issue was supposed to be solved by having Blue Shield take over the state’s My Turn system. But that was weeks ago, and yet the problems persist.

“Just this week they overscheduled another 800 patients, so it’s fraught with issues," Dr. Sharieff said.

This story was written on Cesar Chavez Day, so no one at the County was available to talk to us, but Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Nora Vargas have said continually that the infrastructure is in place to administer a lot more vaccines.

But like the health care providers giving the shots, the county is also at the mercy of the state and federal government when it comes to supply.

Through it all, the county has placed an emphasis on equity, getting the vaccines to communities hit hard by the pandemic. That’s led to the opening of distribution sites in communities hit hard by the pandemic, such as the Sherman Heights Community Center.

On Wednesday people started lining up hours before the facility opened at 9:30 a.m. By 12:30 p.m., a line stretched around the block. A security guard said people were waiting for up to four hours to get their shot. The Sherman Heights Community Center is a no appointment needed, walk-up site, with one catch.

If you want to get a vaccine here, you have to live in either the 92113 or 92102 ZIP code.

But as well intentioned as it is, Dr. Sharieff said there’s a problem with the county’s approach.

“We have been getting limited doses frankly (at the Del Mar site) from what I’ve been told is because the ZIP code isn’t right, and I understand the equity reasons, but people have been driving all the way from Oceanside to Petco Park, Carlsbad all the way to East County to get their vaccines and so just looking at the ZIP code where the site is doesn’t make a lot of sense," she said.

Another jolt to the supply chain will come April 15, when eligibility opens up to anyone aged 16 and older.