Southern California public health officials are putting a lot of pressure this week to speed up vaccinations against COVID-19 and make the vaccines sought more quickly available.
To counter the slow pace of vaccinations in the region, officials in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties are in the process of creating “supersites” or “superpods” – large, well-known venues such as Disneyland and Dodger Stadium – where mass vaccinations may be given, some as early as this week. In addition to the slow spread of vaccines, Southern Californians also turned to social media to express their disappointment at the lack of information on how, when and where to get vaccinated.
Supersites to speed up vaccinations
On Tuesday, Riverside County formed an incident management team to work on several supersites that allow them to administer the COVID-1
Extracting this information, just like putting vaccines in people’s hands, is a challenge, said Jose Arbalo Jr., a spokesman for Riverside County Public Health. Currently, the only way for people to stay up to date is to follow the health department’s website and search for information, he said. The department works to pass this communication on to community partners such as non-profit organizations, businesses, homeowners’ associations and other groups that have the ability to disseminate information to a wider group of people.
Arbalo said the biggest challenge in the beginning was the fluctuation of the vaccine, but now it is in line with demand.
“We have hundreds of people on the waiting list,” he said. “We are working to get people who have the right qualifications. We look at nursing students, EMTs, and other students we can train who could then provide these superpods. “
Achieving huge demand
It would also help if those who are not in the current permissible levels refrain from accepting meetings or walks to the sites, Arbalo said.
“It takes time and time for people to get the vaccines right now, and it also slows down the process,” he said.
In Los Angeles County, health officials plan to open five supersites to speed up health workers’ vaccinations. Officials expect this expansion to allow them to carry out 500,000 additional vaccinations among healthcare workers by the end of January. Los Angeles County expects to begin vaccinations for people aged 65 and over in early February and for people aged 50 and over, as well as for younger people with a health condition in late March. These levels will also include key workers.
Health officials face the challenge of creating a system that can efficiently and quickly deliver the vaccine to as many people as possible, said Dr. Clayton Chow, a health officer in Orange County and director of the county health agency.
“The infrastructure for providing vaccines is the same as for people in charge of caring for sick people – the health system,” he said, adding that supersites will be able to provide much-needed infrastructure to achieve vaccination goals.
County health officials are stunned by calls asking when they can get the vaccine, but Chow thinks “it’s a good headache for us” because it means more people are open to the vaccine, which will ultimately help achieve of herd immunity and revive the economy.
As of Tuesday, San Bernardino County has no reports of supersites. But spokesman David Wert said the county was pleased with its progress so far. He said the county received the first 75,900 doses, of which it administered 38,770, calling it a “very respectable ratio.” The county received another 43,625 vaccines for a second dose, he said.
Wert said they had not faced significant challenges with vaccine distribution, but that the county’s vaccination team was “discussing different strategies.”
County residents can call the COVID hotline at 909-387-3911 or visit sbcovid19.com for more information, including details of vaccination sites and how to register.
Disappointments in the system
But getting basic information on how, when and where to get vaccinated is frustrating for many. Terry Pearlstein, 66, of Laguna Beach, said she did not know where to register or who to contact for information.
“We need TV commercials, signs on highways and in communities that tell us what to do in clear English,” she said. “I would drive to Long Beach if I could get a vaccine right now, but I don’t know if I can even do it. This is beyond disappointment. “
Even those who have been able to get the vaccines talk about problems with registration and that they have to wait for hours to get vaccinated. Huntington Beach resident Sav Ridley said her elderly parents had to wait three hours and 20 minutes to take pictures at the local vaccination site. It took her five days to get even those appointments, she said.
After entering her parents, they waited in smaller rooms with about 40 others, which she said raised concerns about infections.
“My father said he felt safer waiting in line than he was inside,” Ridley said, adding that the crash system would be much safer, especially on super sites that are likely to be more -crowded.
Orange County Health officials have encouraged residents to register with the Othena Vaccine and Tests Management app, but complaints have been piling up on social media that the app is not working and that they still have trouble scheduling appointments. This seems to be the only recommended way to schedule appointments right now. Only those with appointments can be vaccinated on supersites, health officials said.
Public health officials are struggling to create logistics because while billions of dollars were allocated to develop the vaccine, only a few hundred million were distributed to the country’s health departments, which was simply not enough to prepare infrastructure for vaccine distribution, he said. Shira Shafir, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.
“The health departments are overloaded,” she said.
But Shafir said it was promising that larger health departments would announce plans for supersites to help speed up the process.
“These are places like Disneyland that people know, and there are clear ways to attract and let people out,” she said. “Once health departments understand their work and increase capacity, we will begin to see things improve.”