With hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers to vaccinate in the next two weeks, Los Angeles County is ramping up capacity with five large COVID-19 vaccination sites set to open next week, officials said Friday.
On Tuesday, the Pomona Fairplex, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, The Forum in Inglewood, California State University, Northridge and the L.A. County Office of Education will begin serving as “large-scale vaccination sites” that can each inoculate 4,000 people a day, county officials said.
“In LA County we have to vaccinate 10 million people, twice,” L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “These large-scale vaccination sites are going to help us get there by massively increasing our capacity to vaccinate people quickly and efficiently.”
Only those in skilled nursing facilities and front-line health care workers can currently get the vaccine in L.A. County.
The new sites are specifically for vaccinating health care workers, said Dr. Paul Simon, L.A. County Department of Public Health Chief Science Officer. They’d have to bring verification documents like a badge, license or pay stub if they want to get their dose at a distribution site.
“Residents who are not in the eligible categories should not attempt to register for a vaccine appointment, at this time,” county officials said in a news release. “Doing so will take an appointment slot away from the frontline healthcare workers.”
The five COVID-19 vaccination sites are in addition to dozens already up and running throughout the county, including pharmacies and at Dodger Stadium — which opened Friday.
While California state officials announced this week that all residents aged 65 and older can get the vaccine, not all counties are ready to expand access to seniors — something that created confusion as people rushed to make appointments.
That’s the case in L.A. County, where Health Director Barbara Ferrer said there’s not enough doses in the county yet to vaccinate that group.
She said the county asked the state for more doses, and that it is estimated that vaccination will begin for those 65 and older in early February.
As of Thursday, more than 219,000 first doses and more than 60,000 second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered to health care workers and people living in nursing facilities throughout the county.
That means that L.A. County has used more than 44% of its supply of first doses, and about 30% of second doses, according to Simon.
Complicating vaccine distribution is the fact that it’s been hard to predict how many doses will be given to the county, Simon said.
“We’ve not really known week-to-week how much vaccine we’re gonna get,” he said. “And so that makes long range planning particularly very challenging.”
He explained that vaccine distribution suffers when there are long stretches with very little doses coming, but also when the county gets a sudden, massive amount.
“Our hope is with the new administration, there will be more transparency, better lines of communication so that we do know,” Simon said. “We hope that there will be a steady increase in the supply.”
After TMZ reported that a clinic in Inglewood provided 150 doses of vaccine to people who aren’t eligible for it in the county’s plan, health officials clarified that providers should not throw away doses that they opened for people who don’t show up.
“No vaccines are being thrown out,” Simon said. “There have been isolated reports of some vaccines being lost at the end of the day, being wasted, that were not used. That’s tragic… But certainly mass quantities of vaccine are not being lost.”
He also explained that staff at county vaccination sites have been instructed to reach out “within their local communities” to offer people an opportunity to come in quickly to get any vaccine that may be leftover towards the end of the week.
“The vaccination campaign at this scale is unprecedented in our nation’s history and ramping up to vaccinate 10 million people is, it will be for some time, a test that requires extraordinary effort, as well as patience,” Simon said.