Just a few weeks ago, California was struggling to meet demand for COVID-19 vaccines
SAN FRANCISCO – Hearing about too much vaccine and missed appointments frustrates Dr. Aaron Roland, a family doctor who has been lobbying for doses to inoculate his patients, many of whom are low-income, immigrants or the elderly.
The San Francisco Bay Area doctor has more than 200 patients who asked when he will offer coronavirus vaccines. A 67-year-old patient said he entered a Safeway supermarket because signs said doses were available.
“But they said, ‘Oh, no, they’re not really available. You just need to go online, just apply online. “It’s not something he does very easily,” said Dr. Roland, whose office is in Burlingame, south of San Francisco.
California, swimming in vaccines, is in much better shape than it was weeks ago, when making an appointment was a cause for celebration. Today, Los Angeles, San Diego and other populous counties are announcing that anyone can join a scene, and the state is sending text messages stating that there are several appointments available. Rural Humboldt County even declined 1,000 extra shots last week due to weak demand.
More than 18 million of about 32 million people eligible for the vaccine in California are fully or partially vaccinated, including almost half of the people in economically vulnerable CEPs most affected by the pandemic and 73% of residents aged 65 and over. The country’s most populous state, like much of the United States, appears to have reached a level of vaccination.
The declining demand for vaccines illustrates the challenge the United States faces in trying to overcome the pandemic, even when other countries are in the midst of fully developed medical emergencies and vaccine shortages.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone in California who wants a vaccine can get it – as some of Dr. Roland’s patients can attest to.
Marlies Mokhtarzadeh was rejected by a pharmacy in the center of Millbrae that offered Johnson & Johnson’s unique vaccine by a clerk who told her to make an appointment online.
But Mokhtarzadeh, 80, is not able to do this and her granddaughters were also unable to make an appointment for her. She is exhausted from repeated attempts to get a place through a toll-free number, so she will wait for Dr. Roland, her doctor for three decades, to get the vaccine.
“I’m not a girl,” she said. “I’m trying to find someone to give me the injection and they have it at Walgreens in Millbrae and I don’t know why they didn’t give me the injection.”
In the future, more effort will be needed to reach the unvaccinated, health experts say. The group includes people who cannot leave the house or who cannot miss work; for some, vaccination may not be a priority, or they may have questions that cannot be answered by making an online vaccination appointment.
“We want to reach everyone, and what happens at this point in the process is that each person we try to reach becomes a little more difficult to reach,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California , San Francisco. “It is not as easy as setting up a mass vaccination site and saying that if you build it, they will come.”
Counties, cities and providers across the country are turning to paramedics to deliver injections at home or provide transportation to vaccination sites, even offering incentives to try to reach as many people as possible. Like California, many states also have more doses than guns to apply them.
Families Together of Orange County, a community health center where more than half of the patients are Latino, is visiting shopping centers, supermarkets, restaurants and schools, said CEO Alexander Rossel.
Marin is among counties that are eliminating mass vaccination sites in favor of smaller mobile clinics. Santa Cruz County has restarted a medical “strike team” to reach people who need vaccines at home.
But finding out who needs help and where they live is not easy. “There is not a big list of them,” said Jason Hoppin, a county spokesman.
State officials are expected to soon release more guidelines on home vaccines to vaccinate more people, while working to add providers to their list. Blue Shield insurer took over the state administration of the vaccine on March 31.
Dr. Roland’s practice was authorized to inoculate patients against COVID-19 in late February, but was unable to obtain the vaccine in San Mateo County or Blue Shield. County spokesman Preston Merchant said that with limited supplies, suppliers need to obtain it from Blue Shield.
People who care for their 96-year-old mother, who was vaccinated elsewhere, and the grandmother of a severely disabled adult are among those seeking Roland’s vaccination. They don’t know about computers and he can hardly tell them to keep checking the countless websites of pharmacies, hospitals, counties and states that offer consultations.
“It’s good to have a lot of different channels,” he said. “But one of the places where it would be good to get a vaccine is with the doctor”,
As the state moves from a lack of vaccine supplies to decreasing demand, family doctors are important in helping people overcome reluctance. Doctors who care for their patients are more reliable than an anonymous person giving an injection, said Anthony York, a spokesman for the California Medical Association.
Dr. Kim Rhoads, cancer researcher at UCSF and director of Umoja Health, a vaccination and pop-up test group aimed at African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area, said it is critical that the government continue to fund organizations smaller community groups who know where to go, such as corner stores, neighborhood meeting places, and other places where people gather.
“If it doesn’t go there,” she said, “we will miss the opportunity to put a limit on this pandemic.”