S.F. teachers and grocery store workers, now eligible for vaccine, still may have to wait weeks – San Francisco Chronicle

Even as San Francisco moves to expand vaccine eligibility Wednesday to 168,000 teachers, grocery store employees and emergency responders who live or work in the city, some may find they cannot get their first-dose shots for another two or three weeks.

This is because, like many health departments and providers across the state, San Francisco is prioritizing second-dose shots. That means they are giving second shots to people who got their first shots a few weeks ago, and delaying appointments for first shots until they get more vaccine. Both vaccines currently available in the United States, made by Pfizer and Moderna, are given in two shots, 21 or 28 days apart.

About 91,000 San Franciscans are due to get their second dose in the next two to three weeks, according to the department of public health. San Francisco projects that in the next two weeks, the number of first-dose appointments will decrease significantly compared to the last two weeks.

High-volume vaccination sites that get vaccine supply from regional health care providers are similarly delaying first-dose appointments until they get a new influx of vaccine. The vaccination site at City College, run by San Francisco and UCSF, is only doing second doses this week, except for Thursday, said UCSF spokeswoman Kristen Bole. Next week will also be second doses only, unless UCSF receives additional vaccine.

Sutter Health is suspending first-dose appointments at all of its nine large-scale Northern California vaccination sites, including at SF Market in the Bayview, due to a lack of vaccine. It will reopen appointments “as soon as more vaccine is made available to us,” said Sutter spokeswoman Monique Binkley Smith.

People may have more luck making first-dose appointments at the Oakland Coliseum, which gets its vaccines directly from the federal government. This is in part because it opened last week, whereas other sites that have been open for several weeks are now doing more second doses than first. San Francisco’s Moscone Center, which uses vaccines from Kaiser, will also do first-dose and second-dose appointments once it reopens Thursday, according to a Kaiser spokesman. The Moscone site has been closed since mid-February because of low vaccine supply.

While the delays in first-dose appointments may be frustrating, this cadence was expected.

“These are challenges with any two-dose regimen,” said Dr. Matt Willis, health officer for Marin County, which during the “leanest” weeks has done far more second doses than first doses and at times worried it didn’t even have enough second doses for everyone. “But it’s not a surprise. The challenge arises when that’s combined with unpredictability of supply. And scarcity … It’s an operational reality.”

Most providers have not been setting aside second doses — this strategy would have significantly slowed their ability to vaccinate as many people as possible, fast — but rather getting as many first doses into arms as possible. Some providers say they are expected to use up all doses each week to receive more.

“We’ve been — I think it’s the practice in most jurisdictions — treating our doses as doses and vaccinating as many new (people) as we can,” Willis said. “And as that second-dose timing rolls around, that’s when we have to ‘rob’ from the first dose, from potentially newly vaccinated people to make sure we’re covering the second dose.”

Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Cat_Ho

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