COVID vaccine sign-ups begin today for LA County residents age 65+ as officials issue new gameplan
Despite a frustratingly sluggish supply line, the rollout of coronavirus vaccines for people 65 and older in Los Angeles County will begin Wednesday, Jan. 20. Seniors will be able to begin making reservations to get their first shots starting as soon as this afternoon, officials said Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Reservations can be made by visiting VaccinateLACounty.com or by calling the new COVID information hotline at (833) 540-0473, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
The new clarity on the rollout emerges following pressure from the public and from the county’s Board of Supervisors to get the vaccine into the arms of people older than 65 sooner.
“I want to urge patience,” said L.A. County Public Health chief Barbara Ferrer, as she and other local officials briefed the public at the Pomona Fairplex, home of one of five giant vaccination sites that opened throughout the county on Tuesday. “We don’t have enough of the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone, and that includes people 65 and older. But we will get there.”
To this point, first priority — known as Phase 1A Tier 1 statewide — has gone to the county’s 800,000 healthcare workers and staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities. But now the pool will spread to seniors.
Concerns endure about the county’s sporadically arriving supply of vaccines. Officials said they were unable to gauge whether it will hold out to meet the demands of inoculating the state’s most populous county, where the 65-and-older population stands at 1.3 million.
That is entirely dependent on the federal government, they said, but were hopeful that communication would improve with the inauguration of a new administration.
At this point, there are only enough doses to get through this week, officials said.
Meanwhile Tuesday, the county reported 186 new deaths and 7,902 new cases of COVID-19, bringing totals to 14,122 and 1,031,874, respectively.
Hospitalization numbers, while still at alarming levels at overtaxed hospitals, continued their very gradual decline. The state’s dashboard listed 7,523 people being treated in hospitals, down from 7,322 on Monday, with 24% of them in the ICU.
The county statistics did not include the latest numbers for Pasadena and Long Beach, cities that run their own health departments.
Pasadena posted 69 new cases, which brought its total since the pandemic began to 9,408; the city’s death toll remained at 192.
Long Beach last reported numbers on Friday, Jan. 15. As of Saturday, Jan. 16, the city reported 15 new deaths, for a total of 535, and 1,530 new cases, for a total of 44,418. Long Beach will update for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in Wednesday’s report, officials said.
The county has received more than 685,000 doses, Ferrer said. As of Tuesday, more than 348,000 vaccinations had been given. More than 271,000 first doses and more than 77,000 second doses were administered, she added.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the county expected to receive 168,000 more doses. However: “We’re not yet sure about our allocations for next week,” Ferrer said.
Initially, officials had hoped to move through that population by the end of the month, and begin inoculating those over 65 and older sometime in early February.
But as other municipalities, public health departments, private providers and some clinics began rolling out more swiftly, local officials began pushing harder for seniors to be inoculated.
By Monday, Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger were urging health officials to open up the vaccine rollout.
“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. Across California, the story has been similar, with the state receiving roughly 3.5 million doses but only able to administer about one-third of that number.
Barger, too, called for flexibility in the initial plan.
“Governor @GavinNewsom has encouraged all counties to start vaccinating residents 65 and older so that we can protect our residents who are most vulnerable to this virus. L.A. County needs to follow the State’s lead without further delay,” Hahn tweeted.
By late Monday, the board’s chair, Supervisors Hilda Solis, had signed an executive order requiring the vaccine be made available to people over 65.
And by Tuesday, the Board was meeting behind closed doors on the subject — a prelude to Tuesday’s announcement.
Solis said the Board could simply not accept that a population so humbled by the pandemic would not have the chance to get vaccinated immediately.
“This is about equity,” she said. “Older adults have been unfairly impacted by the virus. They’ve stayed home for months, isolated.”
Supervisor Janice Hahn echoed Solis: “Over 70 percent of the people we are losing to COVID-19 are over the age of 65. We need to get this group vaccinated and protected from this virus as quickly as possible.”
Solis said the board has been contemplating the shift for the last two weeks, but was spurred by Newsom’s announcement last week that the state’s vaccines could be opened up to seniors.
While county Public Health had been working on its initial strategy — to finish healthcare workers and then go to seniors — Ferrer said her department has remained flexible.
Solis’ executive order late Monday didn’t change that, she said.
“I don’t see this at all as overruling the Public Health Department,” Ferrer said. “We work really closely with Supervisor Solis and all of the supervisors to craft a plan that benefits everybody in this county, and really rolls out vaccine as quickly as possible to those in the priority groups.”
Ferrer said the plan to inoculate healthcare workers was “robust” enough to allow officials to shift to a plan that incorporates the remaining healthcare workers who need shots and an elderly population that needs the vaccines urgently. And they hope to lean on public-private partnerships with such groups as Kaiser-Permanante.
The supervisors’ push amplified recent confusion — and frustration — among seniors seeking the vaccine.
Some of the frustration was evident on Tuesday morning as some vaccine-seeking seniors were turned away from some of the five newly opened mass vaccination sites that were inoculating only frontline healthcare workers.
Some were confused about how to sign up. Some thought they could simply show up or walk in.
Officials also said the county hopes to benefit from a change in the White House, which begins Wednesday.
Among those benefits, they said, were more transparency on how many doses would be coming. That will help in longer-term planning, Ferrer said.
Under President-elect Joe Biden’s plan, released Thursday, about $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas. The result, he hopes, will be 100 million vaccines given in 100 days.
But the county’s on-site spokespeople said they were preparing the sites for a new wave of the population coming in to get their shots.
While supplies are limited — much like testing, early on in the pandemic — officials are looking to ramp up capacity over time, moving to the general population in the coming months, said Director of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management Kevin McGowan.
Early on, the demand for the vaccine apparently outpaced the online appointment system’s ability to handle the load. Not long after county officials formally announced the appointment website Tuesday afternoon, it crashed. County officials announced on Twitter that the website and the hotline were “fielding thousands of calls and users, and experiencing technical difficulties.” County officials said they were working to resolve the issues.
Meanwhile, Long Beach officials, who have had been able to move at a swifter pace than the county, have asked to partner with the county Health Department to absorb neighboring cities, including Signal Hill, Paramount and Lakewood, to handle vaccination distribution for those cities, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said Tuesday.
“We have the organization structure to get that done,” Garcia said. “We just need the OK from L.A. County and the additional vaccines from them and we’ll get them right into the program.”
“What we are trying to do,” Garcia said, “is get vaccines out as soon as possible.”
As all the varied developments cleared, Joni Ejercito, who came to the Cal State Northridge mega-site in the San Fernando Valley on a brisk and blustery Tuesday, said she would be patient but tuned in. She couldn’t get a shot on Tuesday. But she’ll be back, she said.
“I am a healthcare worker. I am elderly. I need to travel,” she said. “It’s for the general good. Not just myself.”