Amid widespread confusion over when and how senior citizens can get the coronavirus vaccine, two Los Angeles County supervisors are urging that people 65 and older be inoculated immediately.
“Gov. Gavin Newsom has encouraged all counties to start vaccinating residents 65 and older so that we can protect our residents who are most vulnerable to this virus,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said Monday on Twitter. “L.A. County needs to follow the state’s lead without further delay.”
Despite the state announcing last week that it was opening up vaccinations to older people, Los Angeles County has not received enough doses to expand an already slow vaccine rollout. The county is still limiting vaccinations to healthcare workers, first responders and residents and staff in skilled nursing facilities.
While that process needs to continue, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a tweet Monday, the county also needs “to be flexible and immediately begin the process of vaccinating those 65 and older.”
Officials have been flooded with calls from older residents who want the vaccine. But the county has said it will not begin the next phase of vaccinations until healthcare workers have received their shots — likely not until early February. Officials estimated last week that roughly 450,000 healthcare workers still needed to be vaccinated.
“People are scared,” Barger said recently. “That’s really the takeaway I’m getting from people who are calling. People are frightened.”
By this week, according to county estimates, more than 40,000 doses per day will be administered at vaccination sites that include Dodger Stadium, five mega-sites run by the county — including Six Flags Magic Mountain and the Pomona Fairplex — and a handful of smaller city clinics.
County health officials have said they expect that all eligible healthcare workers will receive their first dose in the next two weeks. Those eligible in the next phase include people 65 and older, as well as those who work in education, childcare, emergency services or food and agriculture.
Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said Monday that even a single dose of the two-dose vaccine regimen appears to have driven down infection rates among staff members. Since vaccinations began in late December, positive test results have dropped from 18% to less than 6%, fire officials said in a news release.
“As the county continues to surge, new cases among department personnel began dropping precipitously as did our test positivity rate,” said Clayton Kazan, the county Fire Department’s medical director. “This is the first time in the entire pandemic that our data diverged from that of the County.”
A significant number of firefighters still have not shown up to be vaccinated. About 75% have gotten their first shots, the news release said. A similar trend has been apparent in the L.A. city Fire Department, with 40% declining the vaccine, despite the deaths of two firefighters and nearly one-quarter of the force having tested positive.
County firefighters are expected to begin receiving their second dose of the vaccine this week.
In other parts of Southern California, senior citizens are already starting to get vaccinated. Orange County has opened up vaccinations to residents 65 and older, and Long Beach, which has its own public health department, moved on to the next phase of vaccinations on Friday, with Mayor Robert Garcia and other critical city employees receiving the vaccine.
Police officers in Long Beach and those 65 and older are now eligible for the vaccine. The city expanded its rollout after vaccinating roughly 15,000 healthcare workers and residents of long-term-care facilities, Garcia said in a news release.
Long Beach will also begin opening vaccine clinics to grocery workers and educators this week.
In Pasadena, which also has a health department separate from L.A. County, officials on Saturday offered sign-ups to residents ages 75 and older who had filled out a form expressing interest in getting the vaccine. Reservations filled up within two hours for the roughly 800 doses that will be available Tuesday and another 1,000 to be administered on Thursday at Victory Park, said city spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.
City officials said they received word on Saturday that they would receive enough doses this week to finish the remainder of their top priority medical workers and begin inoculating seniors. Additional help from local hospitals and area pharmacies, which have been receiving their own shipments of the vaccine, has relieved some of the pressure, Derderian said.
Officials have also been reaching out to elder care facilities and older residents who might not be familiar with the online registration process. They’re working on establishing a larger mass vaccination site, perhaps at the Rose Bowl, and hope to extend the age range to people 65 and older as soon as possible.
“It’s all contingent upon how much vaccine we get from the state,” Derderian said. “We have the infrastructure to support the rollout. We just need the vaccine.”
Back in Los Angeles, steps away from Dodger Stadium, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Monday morning in a virtual news conference that the city was ramping up efforts with the American Red Cross to provide thousands of COVID-19 safety kits — drawstring bags filled with hand sanitizer, face masks, COVID-19 testing and safety tips — to families in East L.A., South L.A. and other communities that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
“We know that the most vulnerable parts of Los Angeles right now are the places where we have dense living, multigenerational living, high poverty and essential workers,” he said. “That’s where these outbreaks are happening.”
A helicopter roared overhead, interrupting his remarks. A siren wailed in the distance. Garcetti closed by acknowledging the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the need still to bring racial justice to America, especially as the nation battles a disease that has disproportionately sickened and killed Black and Latino residents.
“Nothing like this pandemic,” he said, “has laid out how urgent that still is.”