Kaiser Permanente asks for patience as coronavirus vaccine supplies lag

Kaiser Permanente, the state’s largest health-care provider, seeks patience from Southern California members frustrated by limited COVID-19 vaccination appointments as it copes with vaccine shortages and shipments delayed by severe, cold weather across the United States.

While many Kaiser members in the region say they have been able to get vaccination appointments through the system, others, including those over age 75 with high-risk health conditions, say they have had more success securing slots elsewhere — at mass vaccination sites around the region or in smaller community clinics.

Kaiser Permanente serves 4.7 million members in Southern California and 9.2 million statewide, but is required by the California Department of Public Health to vaccinate non-members as well, which has impacted some members’ access to appointments.

Mixed results

Orange resident Carrie Mortensen Lundell said her neighbor, a 79-year-old man with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was scheduled to get his COVID-19 vaccine from Kaiser on April 11.

“Ours is a tight-knit neighborhood, we’re like a family,” she said. “We told him there’s no way he should wait that long and worked to help him get an appointment last week at a clinic in Anaheim.”

Christine Lane, 72, of Rancho Cucamonga, said she scheduled her appointment with San Bernardino County at the Ontario Convention Center.

“Right now (Kaiser is) vaccinating the 1a group, over 75,” she said. “I didn’t want to wait any more.”

Others like 78-year-old Marilyn Anderson of Riverside, meanwhile, say they’ve had better luck with Kaiser than trying to go through county sites.

“I gave up on the Riverside County sites and decided to just wait until Kaiser had supplies,” she said. “I got a text from Kaiser saying it was time for my vaccination and to go online to schedule. I got my first dose on Feb. 10.”

Anderson described her experience as “quick and very well organized.” Even before she got home, she said, she had received an email with her visit information and another email arrived the following morning to schedule her second dose.

Upland resident Jean Walter said her husband scheduled them both for a vaccination within two days of calling Kaiser’s appointment line.

“We got it last Saturday (Feb. 13) and the process was very effective working people through with no lines,” she said. “We’re scheduled for a second one in three weeks.”

Shortage and delays

Despite these success stories, Kaiser administrators in Northern and Southern California have acknowledged the system will continue to face challenges unless the supplies improve.

In Southern California, Kaiser has so far administered about 339,000 doses to about 265,000 people, said Dr. Michael Morris, physician director of Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program. Some people have already received both doses, Morris said, while others have received one dose and will receive their second dose when it’s due.

Of the total 400,000 doses it has so far received, Kaiser has used about 85%, according to Morris. The remaining 15% of vaccine is to ensure second doses, he said.

Kaiser’s allocations have varied in quantity, but they have been arriving on time with weekly shipments, Morris said, though poor weather conditions this week at the UPS and FedEx hubs on the East Coast has delayed deliveries. As a result, some upcoming appointments may need to be rescheduled.

Vaccine shipment disruptions have been felt across the region.

In Orange County, delayed shipments forced officials to close the Disneyland mass vaccination site through Monday, Feb. 22, pending delivery of more vaccine. In Los Angeles, the shipment delays affected five mass vaccination sites run by the city, including one of the largest in the country — the massive complex at Dodger Stadium. Shipments of COVID-19 vaccine bound for the Inland Empire are being delayed because of the icy weather afflicting much of the nation, causing appointments for second doses to be rescheduled for about 600 Riverside County residents.

‘Much less than we need’

Before the shipment problems, Kaiser’s ability to keep up with demand for vaccinations was impacted when more groups became eligible to receive their shots.

Kaiser has received about 10% of the state’s vaccine supply, Morris noted, which was sufficient when the health system was limiting vaccinations to health-care workers.

“But once we began vaccinating individuals beyond that category, we require 25% of the state’s supply to meet the demand, and yet continue to receive only 10%,” he explained. “As such, when it comes to our vaccine supply, we are receiving only about 40% of what we need.”

Kaiser is doing everything it can to make sure those who are eligible for the vaccine receive their shots in a timely manner, Morris said.

“But we are still receiving much less than what we need,” he said.

A “special, one-time extra vaccine allocation” by the state has enabled Kaiser to begin reaching out to members between the ages of 65 and 74, Morris said, adding that the system has already reached out to all members 75 and older via text or phone. Those who did not make an appointment or get vaccinated in that age group, or those who can’t be reached via phone or text, should have received a letter in the mail, he said. Most should get vaccination appointments in early March, Morris said, because of an “anticipated increase in vaccine allocation from the state.”

Accepting members and non-members

Though a majority of its vaccines have been administered to Kaiser members, according to a health system spokesman, the state Department of Public Health requires Kaiser to provide vaccines to non-members as well.

That was a big help to Kaiser member Mitch Martino, an occupational therapist at a San Dimas congregate living facility, who secured appointments for himself and his parents, both over age 85, who are not members of the health system.

Kaiser served his whole family well, he said, when his parents couldn’t get an appointment through Los Angeles County.

“But I was able to get them scheduled for their shots at Kaiser even though they are not members,” Martino said. “I was pleased with the ease of getting appointments for members and non-members.”

Debra Stafford of Santa Ana, who volunteers to help older adults get vaccine appointments, said Kaiser’s system works better for older people because they can make appointments over the phone and for Spanish speakers because the system has bilingual phone operators. But because Kaiser vaccinates non-members, she said, it’s been challenging for some members to get appointments.

“They’re serving non-members, which is good for the community,” she said, “but it’s leading to frustration for their own members.”

For more information, visit kp.org/covidvaccine or call 1-833-574-2273 to schedule vaccination appointments.

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