5 vaccination mega-centers open in L.A. County today – but are there enough doses to stock them?
Fueled by an increasingly uncertain supply of much-coveted coronavirus vaccines, Los Angeles County health department teams rolled out five new large-scale vaccination centers, all at high-profile settings around the region, on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
The array of new vaccination centers are in addition to the giant parking-lot clinic at Dodger Stadium — perhaps the largest vaccination site in the nation — and 75 smaller sites the county is already operating. With Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis issuing an executive order directing health officials to start vaccinating all L.A. County residents 65 and older starting Thursday, the buzz over the new centers was amplified. Officials cautioned, however, that the centers would only serve healthcare workers with appointments Tuesday and Wednesday and that instructions for seniors seeking vaccines would be forthcoming.
Though all the sites are quite recognizable to Southlanders, county officials don’t necessarily covet their amenities or their legacies. It’s all about the pavement in this era of the car-caravan clinic, and these sites offer wide-open spaces for vaccine-seekers to safely roll in. But the question arose in the past week: Will there be enough of the sluggishly arriving vaccine to keep the new sites operating at anything near full capacity?
Centers opened today at :
- Inglewood’s familiar Forum arena, the pre-Staples home of the Lakers and a popular music and entertainment venue for decades;
- Six Flags Magic Mountain, the Valencia thrill-ride paradise shuttered by the pandemic, boasts acres of unused parking lot perfect for drive-thru business;
- The L.A. County Office of Education, a nondescript locale compared to its near vaccinating peers, but a familiar site to the county’s teachers;
- The sprawling Fairplex, longtime home to the critters, corndogs and cacophony of the Los Angeles County Fair; and
- California State University Northridge, largely vacant while virtual learning is in session, but ready to offer San Fernando Valley residents a nearby inoculation station.
County health officials were on site at 6 a.m., primed to answer questions for early risers and morning news anchors. Officials cautioned that the new centers are still only serving healthcare workers for now. Appointments and information are available here.
Residents at long term care centers can also make appointments — and, starting Thursday, any resident 65 and older will be eligible for the vaccine, though official word on the process for those inoculations had yet to be announced this morning.
“It’s definitely an exciting moment for us,” said field spokesperson Jesus Ruiz, busy at work at the Forum site before dawn. Officials were setting up this morning in preparation to vaccinate roughly 4,000 people per day, same as the other four sites. None were expected to run at full capacity just yet today, though.
“It’s been a lot of work and truly an all hands on moment,” Ruiz added. “We are pulling resources from throughout the county to make this happen.”
Those inoculated here would be receiving the Pfizer vaccine, Ruiz said. After each dose is given, the recipient immediately gets an appointment to return for a second dose.
At CSUN, crews were setting up as the sun rose. Medical workers who would be administering vaccines checked in early — they planned to administer 2,400 vaccines to their fellow healthcare industry peers today.
Team members pulled on reflective vests, unpacked supplies and listened to instructions on how the day work work at the San Fernando Valley campus.
At the Los Angeles County Office of Education in Downey, public health officials set up a large-scale drive thru operation in the parking lot, with bright orange cones and large white canopies to keep it all in order.
Capt. AJ Lester of LA County Fire Department’s lifeguard division said this was all set up by public health and L.A. County Fire so that every resident that wants a vaccine can get one in the weeks and months ahead.
“This is all hands on deck,” he said in an interview. “We want to get through this pandemic as fast as possible.”
Today, the vaccine center can handle 2,400 appointments, but the eventual goal is to give 4,000 vaccines per day, Lester said. Vaccinations started at 10 a.m. and will end at 4:30 p.m., but he added no one will be turned away if they’re waiting in line for an appointment. The site opened the day with 1,500 appointments already made.
When a person comes to the site to receive the Pfizer vaccine, they’ll first drive up to a screening center, where their appointment will be confirmed, explained Melanie Niedjelski, one of the directors of this site. That person will then drive up to receive the vaccine from a healthcare worker and then drive to a waiting center for 15 minutes to make sure they have no immediate adverse reactions to the vaccine.
“This is what Public Health is for,” Niedjelski said. “We excel at this. We give vaccinations.”
To run this large-scale operation, the vaccine site is staffed by an array of healthcare workers who administer the vaccine, L.A. County employees who run the operation and security guards who protect the people and the vaccine.
Darrell Youngblood, a registered nurse from New Orleans, is among other nurses administering the vaccine at this site. Earlier this year, he also worked on the frontlines of this pandemic in an emergency room, so he’s thrilled to see the beginning of the end.
“People were dying left and right,” he said. “I had days I didn’t want to go into work because I was scared, but I knew I needed to. Now, everyone can begin to become immune.”
For Jackie Garcia, one of the first people to receive the vaccine in Downey, it was a smooth process. She drove through, got the shot — and it didn’t even hurt.
“I have more peace of mind now,” the 42-year-old optician said.
Diana Owens, a registered nurse, said felt relieved, too. Now, she feels less stressed about coming home from an ICU shift and potentially spreading COVID-19 to her family.
“I was so afraid to be around my family after working a shift as a nurse,” she said. “I feel better now that I am vaccinated be around my family.”
However, her one hangup was that she waited in line for a long time, a sentiment shared by David Baltazar, 58.
Baltazar said he got in line around 9:15 a.m. and was not seen around 10:45. Still, he’s grateful, and looks forward to everything returning to normal.
“I’m relieved, but I’m also hopeful that it’ll help,” he said.
At Pomona’s Fairplex, L.A. County Fire spokesman Manuel Martinez said that the opening was “a great step toward building an infrastructure for being able vaccinate as many people as possible in L.A. County.”
Martinez says that the Fairplex site currently has 1200 appointments scheduled for Tuesday, that number was expected to rise to 4,000 by Wednesday.
“I know that starting we’re in phase 1 but we’re working very quickly to expand to 65 and older,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure by Thursday we’re able to start processing those appointments (for 65 and older).”
The Fairplex has hosted various county efforts to tackle to pandemic including testing, a quarantine center and food distribution.
Fairplex Interim CEO Walter Marquez said the giant clinic signified the next step in the venue’s efforts to help the tackle the public health emergency.
“We have to be proud to have such a site that provides that support that’s needed for the Eastern portion of the county.” Marquez said. “What’s most important at this point in time is people able to get he vaccination and being able to address the pandemic and not have the challenges that were facing today.”
In Valencia, a blustery day greeted the vaccine team as winds endured through the morning. The forecast of high winds prompted public health officials to close mass vaccination Tuesday in neighboring Orange County.
Monday evening, Solis signed a most unusual executive order, making COVID-19 vaccines available to residents aged 65 and older, aligning with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent order allowing the widening of the state’s rollout. The availability would begin Thursday, according to the order.
The rare executive order from the county board chair came as fellow Board of Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger urged health officials to open up vaccines for older residents.
“As the biggest county in the nation, I appreciate the massive undertaking it will be to vaccinate 10 million people twice,” Hahn said in a letter. “However, the vaccine rollout has not gone as quickly as it needs to.”
Hahn said she was disappointed the county was only able to administer roughly half of the vaccine doses they received so far. Statewide, the story has been similar with the state receiving roughly 3.5 million doses so far but only able to administer about one-third of that number.
Barger applauded Solis’ order on Tuesday on her Facebook page. “L.A. County residents over 65 are now able to make vaccine appointments,” she posted. “Thank you to my colleagues for your partnership and advocacy for our vulnerable communities.”
The county health website, however, was not yet accepting appointments for non-healthcare workers, spurring frustrated comments from residents seeking to secure their slots. Updates on the appointment process were expected soon.
The Board of Supervisors planned a closed session on Tuesday, so it’s possible that the next vaccination steps could emerge from that meeting.
L.A. County public health officials contend that current supplies — which come to the county from federal officials, via Sacramento — are insufficient to finish inoculating medical workers, the county’s top priority for the first wave of vaccines.
Solis’ order is in line with revised guidance released earlier this month by Newsom, who authorized local jurisdictions to expand the vaccination program to older residents earlier than expected in the vaccination process.
“Over the past several weeks, the County of Los Angeles has administered the vaccine to front-line health care workers, so that they can stay safe while doing the important work of saving lives, and residents and staff in skilled nursing facilities and long-term care facilities,” Solis said in a statement. “The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been an enormous undertaking, especially during an unprecedented surge where cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to skyrocket. However, if we are to ever get out of this dark winter, it is critical that we make headway vaccinating people 65 years of age and older as soon as possible — in line with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recommendations.”
When Newsom announced the change in vaccination policy last week, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county would not offer vaccines to people 65 and older until vaccinations of front-line health care workers were completed. That process was expected to last until the end of the month.
Ferrer noted that expanding the availability of the shots was largely dependent on the local supply of vaccines.
There was no immediate word on what impact Solis’ order would have on the county’s vaccine supply, and its ability to complete vaccinations of health care workers.
Supply of the vaccine is already limited, particularly following word last week that a federal stockpile of doses had already vanished. And local officials say the communication between them and state officials and leaders in Washington D.C. is so poor, they simply don’t know when new supplies will arrive — and exactly how much is coming.
Officials, however, announced key progress in the vaccination program on Monday. Nearly 99% of the skilled nursing facilities in the county have administered first doses of the vaccine to residents and staff. The five remaining nursing homes will be administering shots this week, officials said.
In Pasadena, officials will inoculate 1,800 seniors and medical workers in a pair of vaccination clinics this week, run by the city’s independent health department. City spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said signups for seniors seeking a vaccine were “gone within hours.” The city is still several weeks away from having enough doses to vaccinate those over the age of 65, she said.
Long Beach began giving vaccines to people 65 and older over the weekend.
Upon the governor’s order, Orange County immediately allowed vaccinations for people 65 and older. For many residents, however, it was a struggle to get an appointment or even get the designated app and website to work.
Further complicating matters was an order from the state’s epidemiologist late Sunday, warning providers to stop administering doses from a batch of 330,000 Moderna vaccines in response to allergic reactions suffered by a handful of people in San Diego.
“A higher-than-usual number of possible allergic reactions were reported with a specific lot of Moderna vaccine administered at one community vaccination clinic,” state Epidemiologist Dr. Erica S. Pan said in a statement late Sunday. “Fewer than 10 individuals required medical attention over the span of 24 hours. Out of an extreme abundance of caution and also recognizing the extremely limited supply of vaccine, we are recommending that providers use other available vaccine inventory and pause the administration of vaccines from Moderna Lot 041L20A until the investigation by the CDC, FDA, Moderna and the state is complete. We will provide an update as we learn more.”
San Diego County health officials confirmed last week that a half-dozen health care workers who were inoculated at the vaccination center at Petco Park had suffered allergic reactions.
Those 330,000 doses of Moderna vaccine no longer available represent 10% of all the vaccines received by the state thus far — dealing a blow to counties like L.A., which have been requesting more vaccine allocations to keep up with demand.
So short is the supply that the operators of the Dodger Stadium mondo-clinic warned over the weekend that they could run out of doses as early as Wednesday.
The affected Moderna vaccines were distributed to 287 locations across California. Officials said the Moderna vaccine may have been administered in L.A. County, though nobody required medical attention. Out of an abundance of caution, they said no more of the doses would be given until investigations were completed.
No other significant issues with allergic reactions have occurred at any other location where the affected lot was distributed, beyond the isolated problem in San Diego.