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Long-Awaited COVID-19 Vaccine Access Expanding in L.A. County Monday

Hui Hua Kwan, 71, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Cristy Michel in Chinatown on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Hui Hua Kwan, 71, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Cristy Michel in Chinatown on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 vaccination effort will expand vastly Monday when doses are offered to many essential workers, but health officials said today those workers will have to be patient as vaccine supplies remain limited and staff are trained to ensure only eligible people receive shots.

Vaccinations will be made available starting Monday to workers in education and child care, food and agriculture, and law enforcement and emergency services. Those groups include an estimated 1.7 million people.

“Therefore, it will take considerable time to vaccinate these groups, unless vaccine supply significantly increases,” said Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health. “We urge the public’s patience as we work through this process as quickly as possible.”

Residents aged 65 and older also remain eligible for the shots, and the county’s public health director said Wednesday roughly 700,000 of them are yet to receive their first dose. Health care workers are also still being vaccinated, along with residents and staff of long-term care and nursing facilities.

Simon said Friday the county expects to receive a total of 269,000 doses next week, up from 211,000 this week. With the county setting aside many doses for people who are due for the second shot of the two-dose regimen, a total of 103,000 doses will be available next week for the three sectors of workers and for people aged 65 and over.

Of those 103,000 doses:

  • 35.8% will be allocated to people 65 and over;
  • 27.6% will go toward food and agriculture workers, including grocery workers;
  • 30.3% will be allocated for the education/child care sector; and
  • 6.2% will be directed to emergency services and law enforcement.

“This allocation is proportional to the size of the population in each sector as well as the size of the unvaccinated 65-plus population in the county,” he said.

Workers in each of the sectors will also have to prove they are eligible to receive a vaccine. Full details are listed on the county’s website.

“For each sector, workers will be required to show proof of their identity, with a photo ID, and proof that they reside or work in L.A. County,” Simon said. “A government ID is not required, just some identification with a photo. Demonstrating that they work in one of the eligible sectors will also be required, and there are a number of ways to provide documentation.”

He said some of the ways people can provide documentation is an employee badge with the names of the worker and the employer, a pay stub with an address, a California food handler card or some other type of official license.

Simon said the county is well aware of issues with people jumping the line to get vaccinated and sometimes-varying identification demands made by workers at vaccination sites. But he said efforts are being made to eliminate those issues.

“We’ve certainly heard reports of instances where there was uneven or inconsistent application of the rules across different sites,” he said.

“I don’t think in any case was it done intentionally, but I think it does reflect the complexity sometimes and the fact that there’s an awful lot to think about. It’s really one of the challenges of rolling out the vaccination campaign in phases that target occupational groups. How you define those groups can be challenging, and then the rules that need to be applied to make sure that only those that are eligible are then being allowed to be vaccinated is tricky.

“So we are training our staff as I speak. And we will continue that over the weekend. We do anticipate though, that next week will be a learning process. We’re hoping it’ll go as smoothly as possible, but I’m sure there will be some mid-course corrections next week if we see any issues of concern.”

Much attention during the expansion of the vaccination effort is likely to be placed on the speed of inoculating teachers, with pressure mounting to reopen school campuses for in-person instruction. Many teachers’ unions, including the one representing Los Angeles Unified School District educators, are pushing for school staff to be vaccinated before in-person classes resume.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has mandated that 10% of all vaccine supply received in the state be immediately set aside for teachers, child care workers and other school staff. But dividing the education allocation among the 80 school districts in Los Angeles County will be a weekly challenge.

To address the issue, the county has devised a complex formula aimed at doling out the vaccine in an equitable manner.

Of the doses allocated to the education sector each week, 9% will be automatically directed to private schools in the county, reflecting the percentage of county students they serve.

The 80 individual school districts in the county — excluding those in Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments — will be divided into five groups. Remaining available doses will be divided among those groups based on a formula that evaluates factors of overall student enrollment; the percentage of students living in poverty — based on those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches; COVID case rates in each community; and whether schools have already been providing in-person services for higher-need students.

The formula means the LAUSD — the second-largest school district in the nation — will likely receive about 40% of available education-sector doses each week.

Anyone eligible for a shot in the county can make an appointment at www.vaccinatelacounty.com.

The state has authorized shots beginning March 15 for anyone aged 16 and over with an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk for severe illness or death from COVID. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday it’s still unclear if the county will actually expand eligibility to that group on March 15. She said the county is waiting for more details from the state about how that expansion will work, and whether the county can realistically offer those shots given continued limited vaccine supply.

“A lot really depends on what that rollout needs to looks like,” she said. “We’re always anxious to again expand eligibility, particularly if you have more doses. But you have to do it in a way that makes sense.”

Simon said Friday the pending federal approval of a one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine — which could occur as early as Saturday — would have a major impact on local vaccination efforts. Unlike the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being administered in the county, the J&J vaccine requires just one shot, and it is more easily stored, not requiring deep refrigeration like Pfizer.

Simon said the J&J vaccine “could greatly accelerate” the county’s vaccination progress.

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