Newsom Says California Still Not Receiving Nearly Enough Vaccine Doses, Even as Coronavirus Cases Plummet

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Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks with San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher after a press conference at Petco Park on Feb. 8, 2021 in San Diego. The Petco Park Vaccination Supersite, in a parking lot next to the ballpark, has the capacity to dole out about 5,000 COVID-19 vaccines per day. (Sandy Huffaker/Pool via The San Diego Union-Tribune)

California is not receiving nearly enough COVID-19 vaccine to meet overwhelming demand, and that won't change in the near term, Gov. Gavin Newsom conceded Monday.

About 800,000 Californians are fully immunized now but millions of others who are eligible have yet to get their first doses. Newsom said the state received just over 1 million doses of vaccine last week and the next weekly shipment will be only slightly larger.

“We need to see that ramped up," Newsom said during a news conference at San Diego's Petco Park, which is serving as a mass vaccination center. “We’re going to need to see more doses coming into the state of California in order to keep these mass sites operational and to keep things moving.”

Newsom commended San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria for establishing the stadium as California's first "vaccine super station," a collaboration between the state, county and UC San Diego.

San Diego County has four mass vaccination sites and, with its other facilities, could vaccinate 20,000 people a day. But it’s doing half that because of supply shortages.

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“I just fear whatever we do is not going to be enough until the supply is adequate,” Newsom said, praising local efforts to increase capacity.

Counties from San Diego to Napa to Los Angeles have said they'll be using the bulk of their vaccination appointment slots this week to administer second doses to people who were initially vaccinated about a month ago.

For the Pfizer vaccine, a second dose is recommended three weeks after the first, and for the Moderna vaccine it's four weeks. But both can be given up to six weeks after the initial shot and still work optimally, according to the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Los Angeles County, where one in four of the state's nearly 40 million residents live, officials expect to receive about 218,000 doses this week, with about 55% going for second shots, Barbara Ferrer, the county's health director, said during a virtual briefing. Starting Tuesday, the county's six mass vaccination centers will only provide second doses.

Altogether, California has administered 4.7 million vaccine doses and now is averaging about 1 million a week, a jump from last month when officials were criticized for lagging efforts. Super sites like Petco now dot the state, and mobile units are being dispatched to reach underserved communities, such as farmworkers. But officials say they’re constrained by supply.

Nearly one in 10 Americans have now received at least one shot, but just 2.9% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, a long way from the 70% or more that experts say must be inoculated to conquer the outbreak.

Newsom also said California has given money to 110 community-based organizations, part of the "three-legged stool" of equity, speed and efficiency that makes up the state's vaccine distribution plan, and its ongoing effort to use trusted community messengers to combat vaccine misinformation.

Notable next steps in the state's vaccine rollout include a possible announcement on prioritizing teachers, as well as an expected Feb. 15 rollout of the state's partnership with Blue Cross, Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente.

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San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who appeared with Newsom on Monday, said the county has administered a half-million shots. That's the highest per capita rate of any of the state's 58 counties. Petco, home to Major League Baseball's Padres, was the first super site in the state and has administered more than 100,000 shots since opening Jan. 11.

Fletcher said second-dose appointments are given priority but so far the county has also been able to keep appointments of those who are getting their first dose.

“We have not held any back, but what we are doing is honoring second dose appointments first,” he said.

The effort comes as virus cases and hospitalizations fall at a rapid clip after rising faster than ever at the end of 2020 and into the first half of January. California on Monday reported 10,414 new virus cases, the lowest daily level since November, down from about 50,000 a month ago.

Newsom also reported a 25% reduction in the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU beds over the last two weeks.

The seven-day positivity rate for those tested was 5%, compared with 14% a month ago. Hospitalizations for the virus now total about 12,000, a drop of more than 10,000 since their peak in early January.

"Everything that should be up is up, and everything that should be down is down," Newsom said.

Deaths are also starting to decline after rising at an extraordinary rate since the start of the year. Overall, more than 44,000 Californians have died from the virus, the second-highest total in the country.

This article includes reporting from KQED's Lakshmi Sarah and the Associated Press.