California’s Decreasing Vaccinations Signal Critical Turning Point In Rollout

The pace of vaccinations in California has declined for the first time in weeks, mirroring a national trend that has experts worried about slowing demand for the life-saving vaccine.

On average last week, just over 360,000 doses were administered daily across California, an 8% drop from mid-April when the seven-day average peaked at about 391,000 doses, according to data compiled by this news organization. Nationwide, doses have dipped about 11% over the past week.

In the Bay Area, where multiple counties report an unprecedented number of unfilled appointments, officials say the vaccine rollout has hit a new stage marked by a steady supply and success in reaching the first wave of eager residents. But the decline also highlights that more work needs to be done to convince remaining people to get the shot, experts say — and to make it as easy as possible to do so.

Only one-third of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Public Health.

“It feels like we’re on a teeter-totter, and I’m not sure whether we’re going to go up or down,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of infectious disease and vaccinology with the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. “We’re in a pivotal position right now.”

Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Marin counties all had unused appointments this week, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, a change that’s partially explained by growing supply. Santa Clara County, for instance, received about five times its typical doses this week thanks to a windfall directed to its federally qualified health centers, County Executive Jeff Smith said.

But with relatively steady supply in Contra Costa and Marin, officials there believe they’ve made it past the first wave of easier-to-reach residents and now must focus on getting shots to people who have struggled to make time or remain on the fence about getting vaccinated.

“Now, we are shifting into the longer game,” said Marin County Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. “That’s characterized importantly by convenience — where people haven’t gotten vaccinated because it didn’t fit into their lifestyle or needs in terms of work, access or availability.”

Both the state and nation are far from reaching the level of “community immunity” that epidemiologists hope will stop the spread of coronavirus. In California, nearly 53% of those 16 and older had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Wednesday, compared to about 52% of American adults, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health.

But a Kaiser Family Foundation report released earlier this week estimates that within the next two to four weeks, the nationwide rollout will reach a “tipping point” after which it will become much more difficult to convince remaining unvaccinated people to get a shot.

Some local providers are already facing that challenge. Reymundo Espinoza, CEO of Gardner Health Services, said that the long lines at the walk-up Mexican Heritage Plaza clinic in East San Jose have disappeared over the last two weeks, particularly after a rare side effect prompted the state to stop distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Gardner is exploring ways to host evening and weekend appointments, Espinoza said, hoping to reach essential workers for whom daytime appointments are difficult to schedule.

“We’re scrambling, we’re doing more outreach, we’re calling people in to say, ‘Hey, we have vaccines, can you come?’ ” Espinoza said. “There’s going to need to be renewed outreach efforts to make sure people know, understand and are going with the science.”

Not all counties are experiencing the same drop in demand or increase in vaccine supply. San Francisco’s weekly first-dose allocation decreased by about 33% over the past two weeks, according to the department, and interest in appointments has not waned. Likewise, San Mateo County received just over 11,000 doses both last week and this week, said spokesperson Preston Merchant. He expects the county’s first mass vaccination event next week to be “fully subscribed” thanks to high demand.

Although the state now has a weekly average of just 39 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 132 cases nationwide, that success could change if virus variants take hold the way they have in Michigan and New Jersey, Swartzberg said.

“That’s why we need a big push, now that we have plenty of vaccines,” Swartzberg said. “Let’s get them into people’s arms as quickly as possible, and we could have a really delightful summer.”


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