In the coming weeks, Los Angeles County’s supply of COVID-19 vaccine will tighten because of an expected shortage of shots manufactured by Johnson & Johnson — just as people with underlying health conditions become eligible for inoculations.
“The next two weeks, we’re not going to get any Johnson & Johnson [vaccine doses]. That’s a manufacturing production issue,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday, warning that the vaccine supply in March will be tight.
California is still finalizing the list of medical conditions that will qualify people under 65 for the COVID-19 shot starting on Monday, Ferrer said.
A state bulletin last month said that starting March 15 healthcare providers can use their judgment to vaccinate people ages 16 to 64 deemed to be at high risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19 because of health conditions like cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic pulmonary disease, a compromised immune system as a result of an organ transplant, Down syndrome, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, heart conditions, severe obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Ferrer anticipates that hundreds of thousands of additional people in L.A. County with underlying conditions will become eligible for the vaccine.
“Our numbers are likely to go down slightly on how many doses we get, but we’re going to have many more people that are going to be eligible on Monday,” Ferrer said. “So, again, I feel bad always asking everybody to be somewhat patient, because even though it is your turn, it’s still going to be hard to get appointments.”
Ferrer suggested that people with underlying conditions contact their healthcare providers to ask about getting the vaccine. “The easiest way for you to get vaccinated is going to be to go to your provider, or if your provider has an arrangement with a network, to get vaccinated,” Ferrer said.
Adding to the complexity of vaccination efforts is the growing dissatisfaction among officials in counties across the state that are being forced to use the state’s flawed My Turn appointment system to manage vaccinations.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the health services director for L.A. County, said adopting the My Turn system to manage vaccinations for the county’s public hospital system would disrupt her agency’s vaccination efforts, resulting in inefficiency and hardships.
Ghaly said her department would continue to use its own electronic health record system to manage vaccinations, and later upload information to a state immunization registry. Shifting to the My Turn system would force clerks to enter data twice — once in the county health system’s database and again in the My Turn system, she noted.
Ghaly called My Turn a “wholly parallel and an unnecessary system.”
Ferrer backed Ghaly’s concerns. “Please don’t add a layer of complexity to healthcare providers that are already are doing a good job,” Ferrer said.
The My Turn system has also been faultedfor previously relying on access codes that were distributed to people in underserved communities to receive vaccines. The codes leaked out, resulting in people from wealthier and predominantly white communities showing up at vaccination sites in lower income and mostly nonwhite neighborhoods, undercutting efforts to target poorer areas with vaccinations. Partly as a result, people living in the wealthiest communities in California have received double the vaccine doses of those residing in the poorest neighborhoods.
A solution proposed by the state has been to use individualized codes, but Ferrer said that is not a great option, either.
“If you’re a [healthcare] provider, do you know how much work it is to call all your patients to give them individual codes so that they can sign up for an appointment, as opposed to just giving them an appointment?” Ferrer said at Tuesday’s L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting. “Nobody wants to really be issuing individual codes to their patients so that they can get into My Turn with a secure appointment.”
The My Turn system has been flawed in other ways — including sending thousands of residents to vaccination sites in the wrong county, where they are told they cannot get the vaccine.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was told by officials in San Bernardino County that 5,000 L.A. County residents had showed up there to get vaccinated because the My Turn site had inadvertently sent them.
Ferrer said this was the “biggest issue for every county right now” because My Turn isn’t set up to recognize geographic boundaries that would keep residents from registering for shots outside their own county.
This has resulted in people driving long distances, believing they’d be vaccinated. only to be turned away, Ferrer said.
“People are very irate, and understandably so, but the [vaccine] allocations get made based on the populations in the counties, and in times of scarcity, we’ve got to make sure we’re able to take care of the people who live and work in this county, and that has not been fixed in My Turn,” Ferrer said.