Updated Jan. 22, 2021: The California Department of Public Health reversed the decision to withhold Moderna vaccines on Wed., Jan. 20., thus avoiding an exhaustion of vaccines.
City-controlled vaccines could run out in two days, Mayor London Breed and Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax cautioned on Tuesday, as the “inconsistent” and “unpredictable” vaccine supply from the feds and state dry up, and as health concerns in one particular batch caused thousands of stockpiled doses to go unused.
“The vaccine supply will be exhausted by Thursday, the day after tomorrow,” Colfax said. “This week, along with healthcare providers across the city, we received a fraction of the doses we requested from the state.”
However, the setback in the city’s supply seems unlikely to significantly affect the mass vaccination sites that are set to launch soon. Most of the vaccines at these sites will be administered through healthcare providers such as Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health, which receive their own supply of vaccines. As a result, the mass vaccination site at City College is likely still on track to open at the end of the week, Breed said Tuesday.
“To be clear, what the city has control over is through the Department of Public Health. We are definitely planning on continuing to open the City College site because other healthcare providers are still administering the vaccine,” Breed said. “But we are prepared that, when we do have doses, we can get them into the arms.”
In terms of its own supply, Colfax said the Health Department will get only 1,775 doses this week. Plus, it’s holding about 8,000 Moderna vaccines after the state found a batch of 330,000 Moderna doses caused high numbers of people to experience severe allergic reactions. The city hasn’t received any replacements.
“It’s just this unfortunate lack of reliable supply,” Colfax said, greatly affecting “the city’s ability to complete already scheduled vaccinations.”
So far, the Health Department got 31,655 doses and administered 15,545; 12,920 are first doses and 2,625 are second doses, according to Breed.
“That puts our utilization rate at 49.1 percent, which is above the national average,” Breed said. All remaining doses under Health Department control are earmarked, she said.
Including healthcare providers, at least 28,501 San Franciscans have been immunized with at least one dose. These numbers will be updated on the new Covid-19 vaccine tracker on the SF Covid-19 Dashboard, though it is missing some data from health systems. About 3.3 percent of the city has been vaccinated with one dose.
And for San Franciscans curious about when they can roll up their sleeves and get a shot, the city’s vaccine notification system launches today. Right now, California guidelines state that populations in Phase 1A, or healthcare workers and long-term facility residents, as well as individuals 65 or older, must be prioritized. In San Francisco, there’s about 80 to 90,000 healthcare workers, 11,000 homecare workers, and about 110,000 seniors older than 65. The latter make up 15 percent of covid infections, but 85 percent of city covid deaths.
Meanwhile, fear that new variants of the coronavirus are spreading — including a Bay Area strain — raised questions on whether the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will work against these.
“Scientists are looking at the variants in regard to vaccines, but we don’t have additional information,” Colfax said. He added social-distancing, masks, and other health protocols are still the best way to combat new spread, regardless of strain.
“There’s no reason to panic,” he said.
In slightly rosier news, the city’s case rate appears to be slightly decreasing and hospitalizations are leveling off, Colfax said. And although the reproductive number still suggests that the virus is spreading rapidly, it’s “inching down,” Breed added.
But it’s not all in the clear: at present, San Francisco has 333 new cases a day — topping the Thanksgiving surge — and these continue to climb. “This is high. The trend is promising, but it is too early to know for sure. We can simply not let our guard down,” Colfax said.
And infections are dramatically higher in some populations. While the city teeters between a 4 and 5 percent positivity rate, early results at the 24th Street rapid test campaign are showing positivity rates at 9 percent. Latinx residents are reporting 10 to 12 percent daily positivity rates at that site.
San Francisco has improved recently on addressing the racial disparities of the disease, when for months it reported that nearly half its total cases were Latinx, even though those residents make up only 15 percent of the population. Now, they make up about 43 percent of cases.
On Tuesday, Breed and Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced an additional $6 million to bolster the Right to Recover program to give essential workers without paid sick leave two-weeks-worth of minimum wage so they can isolate. Medical experts said frontline jobs, many that are held among the infected Latinx residents in San Francisco, exacerbate risk of contracting covid.
The shot of money in a fund that has been dependent on charitable contributions comes from “unused funds [that pay into the] healthcare security ordinance fund,” and boosts the total Right to Recover pot to $10.5 million.
About $4.5 million has already been claimed and distributed, and in the first round the majority of money went to underserved areas in the southeast sector, where transmission is consistently highest.
“Over the New Year’s weekend alone, we had over 460 referrals to Right to Recover and have averaged about a 100 every day since then. The need is clear and present,” Ronen said in a press release.
With the inauguration of President-elect Joseph Biden tomorrow, Breed hopes that will usher in more federal money for local businesses and Covid relief. While there are no “credible” threats of protests or violence akin to the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, San Francisco police will be on watch, Police Chief William Scott said on Tuesday.
All residents are asked to refrain from large public gatherings if they wish to celebrate, Breed said.
“I’m not the only one who is excited and ready to celebrate, but as always, I’m here to remind everyone we are still in a pandemic,” Breed said. The induction of Bay Area-bred Kamala Harris as the first woman, Black, and South Asian vice president could be extra reason for locals to want to party.
However, Breed said: “The celebration we all want to have, the one we normally would have, sadly cannot happen.”
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