Coronavirus Vaccine – Inland Empire handling increased demand for coronavirus vaccines – Press Enterprise
When Riverside and San Bernardino counties suddenly allowed anyone 16 or older to get a coronavirus vaccine, newly eligible people rushed county vaccine sites — but they didn’t overwhelm them.
In contrast to the first weeks of vaccine availability, when all available appointments in both counties often filled in just minutes, and many were angry they couldn’t find a shot, officials in both counties say the supply of vaccines is now meeting the demand.
“When we opened it up to seniors, there wasn’t a lot of vaccine out there. There was this huge demand, and we couldn’t meet it,” said San Bernardino County spokesperson David Wert. “At this point, appointments aren’t filling up in minutes anymore, but they are filling up.”
In both Inland counties, same-day appointments are often available at some sites.
Inland counties had mostly followed the state’s plan of prioritizing different groups for the first few months after vaccines became available, when there wasn’t nearly enough for everyone who wanted them.
But as appointment slots began to sit empty, Riverside and San Bernardino counties both declared that anyone 16 or over could be vaccinated starting April 6.
With those 16 or over becoming eligible statewide Thursday, April 15, including in Los Angeles County, officials in those areas are asking people to be patient as more people become eligible.
In L.A. County, there are an estimated 5 million people in the newly eligible group aged 16-49, but about 1.5 million of them have already received at least one shot because they were eligible in other categories, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Residents hope Inland counties’ experience signals good news for the rest of the state.
“It’s a very quick process to sign up and once you get there,” said Victor Sartorisi, 76, who accompanied his sister to an appointment at the vaccination site at the old Sears building in Riverside on April 2. “The way they run it is very efficient, and I was very impressed by all of these people volunteering to help their community. If anyone is on the fence (about getting vaccinated), it’s not a hassle at all.”
Sartorisi himself, an Army veteran, was vaccinated separately through Veterans Administration in Loma Linda.
The former Sears site has about 2,000 vaccine appointment slots per day, with all of them selling out this week and about 1,800 being given out daily because of no-shows, said Mark Annas, the city’s Emergency Services Administrator.
“We have seen an increase in crowds and of course the crowd has gotten visibly younger” since younger people became eligible, Annas wrote in an email.
Shane Reichardt, a Riverside County Emergency Management Department spokesman, said Riverside County-run vaccination clinics will be able to keep pace with demand despite the pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The same is true in San Bernardino County, where Johnson & Johnson accounted for 6.6% of the vaccines given out, a bit higher than the state average. Anyone signed up for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine was notified Tuesday that they would instead get a Pfizer dose, while health authorities investigate six cases of rare and severe blood clots that developed among the 6.8 million people vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson.
Because Johnson & Johnson only requires one shot, many people had requested it, said Wert, the county spokesperson.
There have been complaints that lines at some vaccination sites in Riverside County have become exceptionally long, triggering waits of well over an hour.
“Whenever eligibility is expanded we typically experience a week of longer lines,” Reichardt wrote. “Those lines generally return to more normal after a week or so. At most of our County Clinics the process usually takes 25-30 minutes from registration to departure.”
Reichardt said sites run by the county and partners, Curative and OptumServe, collectively have the ability to administer 8,000 to 18,000 doses of vaccine daily.
“We’re not really expecting to fill all of those appointments each day but we want to be ready to and to have that amount of vaccine available for walk-ins,” he wrote.
The number of shots given on a particular day generally ranges between 6,000 and 13,000, he said, with 2,000 to 5,000 doses being returned to a warehouse.
“It’s important to note that these are not wasted vaccines,” Reichardt wrote. “We only take what we need each day. Unused doses are returned to storage and inventory is rotated so we don’t have doses expire.”
Reichardt said that, as far as he knew, people are not still encountering major roadblocks in making appointments. At some clinics, he said, people are able to get same-day appointments.
With fresh memories of insufficient supplies, officials are now working to increase demand.
San Bernardino County has a phone number for those who need help making an appointment online — 909-387-3911 — and is encouraging any resident who knows someone needing help to offer it, while also sending mobile vaccination clinics and doing home vaccination appointments, Wert said.
“The county is trying to communicate to everyone, in their language and in their location, the importance of getting vaccinated,” he said.
Reichardt said Riverside County is working with community groups to make sure people know that appointments are available and where to go for shots.
The county also launched a survey to try to better understand why some people aren’t getting shots, he said. The survey is in English and Spanish and available at: https://elucd.typeform.com/to/cSn76Wwf#latitude=xxxxx&longitude=xxxxx&source=xxxxx.
Appointments are available in San Bernardino County at https://sbcovid19.com/vaccine/ and Riverside County at https://www.rivcoph.org/COVID-19-Vaccine.
Staff writer Tyler Shaun Evains contributed to this report.