Hodgepodge Systems, Confusion Mar California Vaccine Rollout
More than five weeks into its vaccination program, California doesn't have nearly the supply to meet demand and there's growing angst among residents over the difficulty to even get in line for a shot. Social media is awash with people seeking or giving tips on how to maneuver the system.
State officials are frustrated the federal government hasn't provided more doses. Local officials are upset Gov. Gavin Newsom last week suddenly added the 4 million residents between ages 65 and 74 to what was supposed to be a shorter list of people first in line for shots, including health care workers and those in nursing care facilities.
Adding to the confusion is a hodgepodge of systems and differing requirements in the state's 58 counties. For example, Los Angeles and Orange counties authorized mass vaccination sites like Dodger Stadium and Disneyland to give shots to those over 65, while San Francisco is relying largely on hospital systems to vaccinate only patients 75 and up.
Some counties are vaccinating first responders, grocery clerks and farm workers, while others are finishing up health care workers before moving to other groups.
The variety of approaches invariably means, for example, envious seniors in one part of the state are left wondering when it’s their turn as they see video of others getting shots. Those include 73-year-old former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who touted his inoculation at Dodger Stadium this week with a famous line from his Terminator films: “Come with me if you want to live.”
Another senior citizen, Oakland resident Sam Burd, had a frustrating week trying to get shots for himself and his wife. He had noticed long lines snaking outside the nonprofit Asian Health Services and ran into a neighbor on Wednesday who said she had received vaccine there.
He asked for the link to make an appointment and was directed to a state website where he said he filled out three pages of information only to learn no appointments were available. So he walked to the center Thursday and and left a message with a volunteer saying he wanted to know how to sign up for an appointment.
When he didn’t hear anything, he went back Friday, only to find the site shut down. He’s already registered with Alameda County to be notified when an appointment opens and has been calling Kaiser Permanente regularly.
“I haven’t got any response back,” he said. “I’m 76, my wife is 76. We want to get shots.”
In Orange County, Jeremy Horwitz signed up for a vaccine using the county’s app, figuring he wouldn’t hear back right away. But this week the 45-year-old got an email saying he was eligible so he filled out an extensive questionnaire, made an appointment and went to Disneyland — only to wait in line for 45 minutes Thursday before being told he didn’t qualify.
“I provided my age correctly. I figured if they were contacting me, they were contacting me with knowledge I could be qualified under one of the other situations,” he said.
The frustration is bound to increase as people, expecting a major ramp-up, encounter a system tasked with not only giving people first-time shots but bringing back thousands already vaccinated for their required second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
“Undoubtedly there is not enough vaccine to meet demand and that is the reality statewide, nationwide and worldwide, and we’re doing what we can to distribute the vaccine equitably,” said Darrel Ng, vaccine spokesman for the state Department of Public Health.
San Francisco public health officials fretted they would run out of vaccine this week and have to cancel appointments after receiving a lower-than-expected supply. That was avoided after the state authorized use of a batch of Moderna vaccine that had been pulled after triggering allergic reactions to a small number of people in San Diego County.
“One of the themes of the vaccine rollout in California is a mismatch of expectation and not good expectation setting," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Saying over 65 for the state as a recommendation was a hope without a lot of heft in that recommendation or knowledge of capacity. It made a lot more people disgruntled, angry, upset because you can live in one county and be 66 and get it. But in the other county you can be 66 and you have to wait," he said.
About 4 million doses have been shipped to the state, with nearly 1.8 million doses administered, according to the state's vaccine tracker.
State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said California is receiving between 400,000 doses and 500,000 doses a week and at that pace just the 65-and-over population won’t be fully vaccinated until June.
Los Angeles County has a quarter of the state's nearly 40 million people. Its chief science officer, Dr. Paul Simon, said the county needs to more than triple the 150,000 doses it's receiving to reach 75% of the adult population, or 6 million people, by mid-summer.
The inability to get scarce vaccines for parents and grandparents has desperate people asking for help on on social media. The frustration has spared no one, including elected officials.
State Sen. Connie Leyva, a Democrat in San Bernardino County, has logged on every day to the county website to schedule appointments for her parents, both 74. But no matter the time of day or night, there are none.
There's a mass vaccination site at the LA County Fairplex just 10 minutes away from her parents' home, but they're not LA County residents so they can't go there. Finally, she called a local pharmacy and was told that her parents could get on a wait list for vaccines not claimed that day.
“The cautionary tale is you can’t make something widely available when there really is no system in place and there possibly isn't enough vaccine to go around," she said.