Providers throughout California have now administered 30 million total doses of COVID-19 vaccine — a milestone that, though promising, comes amid rising concerns that interest in the shots may be starting to wane.
The abrupt about-face from a situation in which demand for doses far outstripped supply to one where appointments are readily available is alarming health officials who note that, for all the progress California has made against COVID-19, the battle is not yet over.
“The best tool we have for allowing us to stay on this recovery path is the vaccine,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week.
Although millions of people in L.A. County remain unvaccinated , demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has suddenly fallen, and experts are alarmed.
Even with the state having passed another momentous mile marker, many residents have still yet to roll up their sleeves, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And despite the sheer number of doses that have been doled out, California — with its roughly 40 million residents — remains significantly short of the level of vaccine coverage many experts believe necessary to achieve herd immunity and finally bring the pandemic to an end.
To date, 48.5% of all residents, and 61.5% of adults, have received at least one vaccine dose, CDC figures show.
But only 30.2% of Californians have fully completed their inoculation course, meaning they’ve received both required doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Though estimates vary, the share of the population that would need to be vaccinated to starve the coronavirus of new people to infect is often pegged at 80% or higher.
And recent data illustrate that California’s vaccination pace is starting to tail off.
For the week ending Monday, providers statewide administered an average of 318,098 doses per day — down about 20% from the statewide peak of 395,328 per day during the week ending April 11, according to data compiled by The Times.
In L.A. County, “almost all of the providers have said they had appointments that did not get filled this week. Some had a few, some had a lot,” Ferrer said Thursday.
“We’re down at least 50% at all of our county sites in terms of filling appointments,” she said during a briefing. “We take a lot of walk-ins, so that makes up for some of it, but we’re still going to be down for this week.”
This significant drop, she continued, is “very worrisome.”
“This would not be the time to sort of lose momentum on vaccinations,” she said.
The pending closure of the mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium — one of the largest in the country — is another worrisome sign of slowing demand for the COVID-19 vaccine.
California’s most populous county isn’t an outlier when it comes to a downward demand for doses. Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara county’s COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer, is also “concerned about the drop in demand for vaccine that we have seen over the past week or so.”
“We’ve come so far, but we aren’t in the clear yet,” Fenstersheib said in a statement Friday. “Today I am urging everyone to continue getting vaccinated. This will save lives, protect our community from dangerous variants, and help us get out of this pandemic. We won’t reach the finish line until everyone who is eligible gets a shot.”
Many areas of the country are experiencing a similar trend.
If you’re vaccinated and headed outdoors, you can take your mask off, L.A. County says. But only if it isn’t crowded, and you might consider the kids.
This is likely the result of a number of factors — ranging from temporary interruptions in supply due to the recently lifted safety review pause for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the possibility that many people who wanted to get vaccinated have already done so, leaving only those who may be more reluctant or resistant to getting the shots.
“Given that we’ve succeeded in getting vaccinations to the lion’s share of those most at risk and those most eager to get vaccinated, we are now increasingly focused on other groups that will take time to reach,” Jeff Zients, coordinator of President Biden’s COVID-19 task force, said during a briefing Friday. “And we expect the number of shots administered each day to moderate and fluctuate.”
More than 240 million total vaccine doses have been administered nationwide, and 43.6% of Americans have received at least one shot, CDC data show. About 30.5% are considered fully vaccinated.