Despite Surge in Vaccine Supply, Some Californians Can’t Receive Vaccine

Juanita Ortega, left, receives the Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Anne-Marie Zamora at a Cedars-Sinai sponsored pop-up vaccine clinic at the Watts-Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. California, swimming in vaccine, is in a far different place than it was just weeks ago when simply scoring an appointment was cause for celebration. Today, Los Angeles, San Diego and other populous counties are advertising that anyone can walk in for a shot and the state is texting reminders that plenty of appointments are available. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Associated Press reported that Dr. Aaron Roland, a San Francisco Bay-area family physician, has been lobbying for COVID-19 vaccine doses to his inoculate hi more than 200 patients, many of whom are low-income, immigrants or elderly. One of his 67-year-old patients recently said that he walked into a Safeway supermarket because signs said doses were available.

Roland’s practice was authorized to vaccinate patients at the end of February, but he has been unable to get vaccine from San Mateo County or Blue Shield. County spokesman Preston Merchant said with constrained supplies, providers must obtain it from Blue Shield. Blue Shield took over state administration of the vaccine March 31.

California, which is flush with the vaccine, is in much better shape than it was just a few weeks ago, when getting an appointment was a cause for celebration. Today, Los Angeles, San Diego, and other populous counties are advertising that anyone can walk in for shot, and the state is now texting reminders that the are plenty of appointments still available. Even rural Humboldt County has declined 1,000 extra doses last week because of low demand.

More than 18 million of the estimated 32 million California residents eligible for the vaccine are now either fully or partially vaccinated, which includes nearly 50 percent of people in the most economically vulnerable and hardest pandemic-hit areas; this includes 73 percent of residents 65 and older. California, much like most of the U.S., appears to have hit a vaccine ceiling.

The dwindling demand for vaccines illustrates the challenge that the U.S. faces in trying to conquer the pandemic, even as other countries are in the midst of full-blown medical emergencies and short on vaccine. But that doesn’t mean everyone in California who wants a vaccine can get one, which some of Roland’s patients can prove.

However, Marlies Mokhtarzadeh, 80, one of Roland’s patients, was denied a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a downtown Millbrae pharmacy when a clerk who told her to make an appointment online.

Going forward, it’s going to take more effort to reach the unvaccinated, say health experts. These people include those unable to leave their homes or who can’t miss work. For some, a vaccination may not be a priority, or they may have questions that can’t be answered when making a vaccination appointment online.

Families Together of Orange County, a community health center where more than half the patients are Latino, is now going to shopping centers, supermarkets, restaurants and schools, said CEO Alexander Rossel.

Marin is among the counties phasing out mass vaccination sites in favor of smaller mobile clinics. Santa Cruz County has restarted a medical “strike team” for people who need at-home inoculations.

Soon, state officials are expected to release further guidance on at-home inoculations to vaccinate more people as it works to add providers to its list.

As the state moves from a lack of vaccine supply to waning demand, family doctors are important in helping people overcome reluctance.

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Associated Press writer Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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