Those hoping to get their first COVID-19 vaccine shot in Long Beach may have to wait until March as the city next month will reserve nearly all of its supply for second doses for about 20,000 people, the city’s health department director said Friday.
Long Beach for weeks has moved faster than other jurisdictions in its vaccine rollout, moving to groups including teachers, grocery workers and people 65 and older before Los Angeles County.
The push has even earned recognition from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who in a chat on Instagram this week with Mayor Robert Garcia lauded Long Beach for “outperforming” other cities.
But the city has now been forced slow its roll through eligible groups to be vaccinated in the wake of a slow state and federal rollout. Health experts in part have blamed vaccine shortages on the former Trump Administration’s push to reach about 54 million people age 65 and over.
Long Beach Health Department Director Kelly Colopy on Friday said the city has the capacity to vaccinate up to 3,000 people a day at its Convention Center super site, but has only received a few thousands doses in the past week. The city typically receives doses each Tuesday but does not always know how many it will received ahead of time, making planning difficult.
“It’s the same story everywhere,” she said.
Long Beach, one of just four cities in the state with its own health department, has taken a unique approach in that it has opted to use all of its vaccine doses instead reserving some for second doses, which are required by both makers Moderna and Pfizer.
While the approach has allowed the city to move through eligible groups faster, Long Beach, in the face of a vaccine shortage, now must focus on vaccinating about 20,000 people who need second doses next month, leaving little supply for first doses, Colopy said.
Colopy said the city hopes to resume scheduling appointments for first doses in March, or sooner, if it gets a large shipment from the state.
The city has so far vaccinated more than 36,000 people, up from 21,000 last week, officials said. An estimated 90,000 people are in the current eligible tier, which includes about 21,000 educators and 55,000 residents who are 65 and older.
Colopy said about 15,000 residents age 65 and older are currently on a city waiting list to receive a first dose.
Long Beach will have a little more flexibility after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week updated its guidance, saying that doses can now be scheduled up to six weeks apart if necessary. Pfizer and Moderna had both originally recommended that second doses of the vaccine be distributed in 21 days and 28 days, respectively.
As for this week, Long Beach continued to move through eligible groups, with a vaccination clinic on Friday for more than 2,000 food industry workers on the front line.
The city this week was also one of the first in the state to being vaccinating workers at a community college.
On Wednesday and Thursday, more than 500 employees at Long Beach City College received their first vaccine dose. Marlene Drinkwine, the college’s vice president of business services, said the doses were reserved for people who work on campus, including groundskeepers and some faculty.
The college, which has about 2,500 total employees, has also been supplying nursing student volunteers to work at the Convention Center vaccination site. About 150 students and two dozen instructors are helping with vaccinations and the students, and in turn getting credit for their time.
“It’s a great opportunity for our students and great partnership with the city,” said Drinkwine.
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California this week announced that it is changing up the way it is delivering vaccines, moving to a more centralized system that is expected to streamline appointment sign-up, notification, and eligibility for nearly 40 million residents who want to know when they can get a shot and where.
The state has been criticized for vaccinating so few people even amid a national vaccine shortage that appears to be the main bottleneck, administering about 2.6 million of 4.7 million doses shipped. At the same time, confused residents are clamoring for more information and frustrated by eligibility rules that vary by county and by hospital system.
The state has tapped health insurance giant Blue Shield of California as an outside administrator tasked with ramping up vaccinations. Another major health care provider, Kaiser Permanente, will also help in the effort to deliver vaccines.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.