Long Beach starting next week will begin prioritizing second shots for people who have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as California works to ramp up its slow vaccine rollout.
In a news conference Tuesday, Long Beach Health Department Director Kelly Colopy said the city is prepared with 2,500 doses reserved for second shots and is expected to receive more in the coming weeks.
Pfizer and Moderna both originally recommended that second doses of the vaccine be distributed in 21 days and 28 days, respectively, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week updated its guidance, saying that doses can now be scheduled up to six weeks later if necessary.
Colopy said the vaccine will be effective if distributed past the original three-week recommendation.
Mayor Robert Garcia on Tuesday said the city will still push to distribute second doses within about three weeks.
“We feel good that we’re going to be able to manage all the second doses as well as vaccinate other folks,” he said.
Long Beach last week launched is mass vaccine super site at the Convention Center capable of distributing around 3,000 shots a day. But the center on Monday morning was closed as the city received just 2,000 vaccine doses for the week amid a statewide vaccine shortage.
About 1,000 of those vaccine were set to go to educators in the Long Beach Unified School District this week while other shots will be given to grocery workers in a clinic on Friday.
The city has so far vaccinated about 36,000 people, up from 21,000 last week, the mayor said, adding that Long Beach is still moving faster than other cities and counties. The city typically receives doses each Tuesday but does not always know how many it will received ahead of time, making planning difficult.
“We’d love to be moving faster but we’re doing what we can with what we get from the state,” Garcia said.
Garcia said Long Beach will still continue to vaccinate people over 65 as well as other eligible groups including educators, grocery workers and healthcare workers.
The news comes as the number of new COVD-19 cases and other indicators continues to drop, showing promising signs that the recent surge is waning.
Long Beach’s number of cases per 100,000 residents was 39 in early December, before hitting a peak of 162 in early January and falling to 86 as of Tuesday, Colopy said.
The city’s percentage of people testing positive is down to 12% from a high of 17% earlier this month.
The city is still seeing alarmingly high numbers compared to November and early December, before the holiday surge, Colopy said, adding that the positivity rate in early December was just 5.9%.
Long Beach on Tuesday reported an overall total of 46,833 known COVID-19 cases, which accounts for about 10% of the city’s population.
The city reported 618 deaths from COVID-19, up from 596 on Monday.
Long Beach area hospitalizations have also declined, from 578 about two weeks ago to 433 as of Tuesday, she said.
Long Beach on Tuesday officially issued new health orders allowing for outdoor dining and other changes after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the state’s regional stay-at-home orders based on new and promising projections for intensive care unit bed capacity.
The Southern California region’s capacity for ICU beds remained at zero this week but is projected to rise to 33% by Feb. 21, Colopy said.
Meanwhile, California, facing widespread criticism for its slow vaccine rollout, is revamping its delivery system by centralizing its hodgepodge of county systems and streamlining appointment sign-up, notification, and eligibility for its 40 million residents.
Newsom on Tuesday named Yolanda Richardson as secretary of the government operations agency that will spearhead operations and delivery, the state announced. Richardson will work with private third party administrators to decide where the state’s supply of vaccine should go as the federal supply ramps up to meet demand.
The change means counties and hospital networks—which have been scheduling appointments and determining eligibility under broad state guidance—will move at a more uniform pace. Residents have been baffled by the varying systems as some counties will vaccinate people 65 and older while others are limited to the more restrictive 75 and up.
“Our state and county public health leaders have done the important groundwork to get California’s vaccination plan up and running and we are grateful to them and will continue to partner with them,” said Newsom. “We have learned that to accelerate pace we need to dial up the scale of our efforts to ensure vaccine supply goes into arms as quickly as it arrives in the state.”
California has been dinged for vaccinating so few people even amid a national vaccine shortage that appears to be the main limiting factor. It has administered more than 2.4 million of 4.5 million doses shipped.
California has said healthcare, education and childcare, emergency service and food and agriculture workers, as well as anyone 65 and older, are eligible for vaccines.
To sign up for vaccine info and appointments visit Long Beach’s VaxLB portal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.