The classic problem of skyrocketing demand and shrinking supply is one that health officials had dearly hoped to avoid in the case of COVID-19 vaccines.
But that appears to be the situation as Bay Area public health departments are bracing for a significant shortfall in vaccine doses in the coming weeks, just as they gear up to vastly expand eligibility to everyone 16 and older on April 15.
California health officials on Thursday warned counties to expect a sizable drop in supply of all three vaccines this month.
That’s largely because of a major decline in national production of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the result of a recent manufacturing error at a Baltimore facility that ruined millions of doses.
California officials say they've received about 2.4 million doses this week, but expect just 2 million next week and 1.9 million the week after. That's in addition to doses shipped directly from the federal government to pharmacies and community health centers.
Although state supplies are expected to ramp up again by the end of the month, the shortfall could throw off California’s goal of fully reopening its economy by June 15.
Some Bay Area health officials are anticipating their total vaccine supply to shrink by as much as a third this month, potentially forcing them to limit or delay first-dose appointments.
In San Francisco, the health department is planning to receive just 10,000 doses of all three vaccines next week, down from 16,000 this week, according to a public health department spokesperson. The department is encouraging residents to try to also book appointments through the city's network of private pharmacies, and to not be picky about which vaccine they receive.
"Given the lack of supply, we are advising healthcare providers to prioritize second doses," a department spokesperson said in an email. "As such, appointments for first vaccine doses are limited, and people who are eligible may not be able to get appointments right away."
Across the bay, Alameda County officials are expecting a similar deficit, but say that shouldn't impact residents who already have appointments.
"Like other counties in the Bay Area and across the state, we expect a significant reduction in our allocations of Johnson & Johnson for this upcoming week," said Neetu Balram, a spokesperson for the Alameda Department of Public Health. "Thanks to careful planning, we do not expect to cancel appointments and will carefully monitor our supply and information from the state to make future decisions."
Statewide, more than 22 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, and close to 45% of the adult population has received a least one shot.