New mass-vaccination sites at the Oakland Coliseum and Cal State Los Angeles began delivering shots to thousands of people on Tuesday in a step that state and local officials said would help protect residents in neighborhoods hard hit by the coronavirus.
The sites opened a day after the state released the details of a vaccine distribution contract with the health care firm Blue Shield that calls for building out a better, faster and more equitable statewide network — a plan that Gov. Gavin Newsom and others say will help chart a path out of the year-long pandemic.
But all of that optimism is running up against a more frustrating reality.
With supplies still tightly limited, some Bay Area vaccination sites have had to suspend operations. People desperate for the potentially life-saving shots are still struggling to book appointments. And Latinx Californians, who have borne a disproportionate share of illness and death over the past year, have received a far smaller share of vaccines than other racial and ethnic groups.
While the state’s contract with Blue Shield calls for creating a network with the capacity to distribute 3 million doses per week by March 1, Newsom said the state is now getting fewer than half that many doses from the federal government — 1.28 million this week and 1.31 million promised next week.
“We are administering 201,000 doses a day, so you do the math. Supply is the issue,” Newsom said during a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
“There’s simply not enough doses being manufactured from Moderna and Pfizer,” he added.
Another vaccine, a single-dose regimen from Johnson and Johnson now awaiting federal authorization, has the potential to be “a game-changer,” Newsom said, but could take until June or July to be widely available. The supply of vaccine will be limited for some weeks, he said.
Underscoring those limits, San Francisco officials over the weekend had to close two vaccination sites because they didn’t have consistent supply.
The better news is that the number of new coronavirus cases across California continues to decline following the devastating surge at the end of 2020. At just over 8,000, the seven-day average of new cases statewide as of Monday had fallen to its lowest point since mid-November, according to data compiled by this news organization. The number of people dying from the virus also continues to fall from its January peak, when the state was averaging 566 deaths per day, to a seven-day average now of 376 deaths.
California had administered about 6.3 million vaccine doses as of Tuesday, according to the state, meaning a bit less than one out of every six residents has gotten a shot.
Of those doses, state data shows 16% went to Latinx recipients, even though they make up 39% of California residents and 55% of people who have tested positive for the virus. Just under 3% of doses went to Black recipients, who make up 6% of the state’s population and 4% of COVID cases.
The two new mass-vaccination sites and others opening around the state are in part an effort by federal, state and county authorities to address those disparities.
Starting Tuesday morning, a line of cars rolled through a massive tent in the Coliseum’s parking lot, where men and women from the National Guard, Cal Fire, U.S. Forest Service and other agencies directed traffic and delivered shots. The Coliseum and Cal State LA site were each expected to vaccinate 3,000 people on Tuesday and ramp up to their capacity of 6,000 shots per day by the end of the week. Both are located in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
East Oakland’s 94621 ZIP code, which includes the Coliseum, has the second-highest COVID case rate and test positivity rate in Alameda County. It trailed only the neighboring 94603 ZIP code in both categories.
The new sites are “a step in the right direction” to make vaccines more accessible to communities that really need them but don’t always have the technology or time to try and get one, said Dr. Fola May, a physician and health equity researcher at UCLA.
“What was missing very early in our vaccine distribution was a plan that made sure that these vaccines would be available in the right time and space,” May said.
Along with the large sites, Newsom said officials are also launching four new mobile clinics, two for each of the new mass-vaccination sites, that would be deployed elsewhere in those communities to help deliver shots to people who cannot come in person.
Newsom said the state government is also working with more than 100 community organizations to do outreach and build trust in the vaccines. Federal authorities also stressed they would not conduct immigration enforcement actions at or around vaccination sites.
Anyone looking to get vaccinated at the Coliseum site will need to get an appointment from MyTurn.ca.gov or by calling 1-833-422-4255.
While the sites are all supplied directly from the federal government, meaning their doses won’t come out of the state’s allotment, they’re still limited. The state’s My Turn website on Tuesday morning showed some vaccination slots were open later in the week, but within a few hours that availability was gone — something May warned could further fuel inequity among those getting and not getting the shots.
Securing an appointment “can’t be like trying to get Lady Gaga tickets,” she said. “The busy essential worker has a few minutes to schedule this thing and can’t be sitting at home on their computer hitting refresh and waiting for a slot to pop up.”
Staff writer Annie Sciacca contributed reporting.