As California confronts its darkest moment yet of the pandemic, complications in the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine — which Gov. Gavin Newsom billed as the “light at the end of the tunnel” — suggest that the tunnel may be longer than previously thought.
Although the Golden State was slated to receive around 2.1 million vaccine doses by the end of December, it had received less than 1.5 million as of Saturday — and only 412,000 Californians had gotten their first shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That represents about 17% of the health care workers California prioritized for the vaccine — many of whom are refusing to take it. Between 20% and 40% of frontline workers in Los Angeles County and up to 50% in Riverside County have turned down the vaccine.
- April Lu, a 31-year-old pregnant nurse at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center: Between “the risk of having COVID, or the risk of the unknown of the vaccine … I’m choosing the risk of COVID. I can control that and prevent it a little by wearing masks.”
The surprising development has left hospitals and public health officers unsure of what to do with the extra doses, which must be distributed according to state and federal guidelines even as interest groups clamor to be next in line. To prevent the doses from going to waste, two Southern California hospitals apparently inoculated employee relatives — a violation of federal guidelines that some leaders nonetheless praised.
- A former national emergency management leader, who asked to remain anonymous: “Faced with thawed, expiring vaccines that can’t be refrozen, and no contingency plan, doctors made the choice to vaccinate people they could. That’s what doctors do, save lives.”
Adding to California’s coronavirus challenges, at least six cases of a new, potentially more contagious strain have been confirmed in the Golden State. And dangerously low ICU capacity means that 98.3% of Californians will remain under regional stay-at-home orders for the foreseeable future.