Supply will largely dictate the success of the April 15 expansion of vaccine eligibility to those 16 and older, large vaccine providers say. And, slightly over a week from that date, what supply will look like is still uncertain.
There are 32 million Californians 16 and older, and about 40 percent of this population has received at least one dose, leaving a lot of people clamoring for a vaccine. Previous vaccine expansions, including the one last Thursday to those 50 and older, have been accompanied by mad scrambles for limited slots.
Meanwhile, at community vaccination sites like the one at Capp and 24th streets, the focus is on whether hard-to-reach populations will show up on April 15 for a shot.
Although the state anticipates a significant increase in the national supply of vaccines in the coming weeks and months, such an increase may not come in time for April 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned at a press conference Tuesday.
“On April 15, if millions of people try to get a vaccine, it’s going to take some time, it’s going to take a number of weeks, it’s going to extend perhaps over a month,” he said, adding that, “We don’t anticipate a substantial increase in available supply beyond what we are receiving this week.”
Newsom declined to provide numbers on the week’s vaccine allocation, citing the need to wait for additional information from the federal government and time to work through the numbers on the state’s end. “I wouldn’t expect anything until we work through those numbers,” he said.
A lack of supply has temporarily shuttered some vaccine sites in San Francisco. Last Thursday, the mass vaccination site at City College had to temporarily close for a lack of vaccines, just when adults 50 and older were made eligible for the vaccine.
Vaccines are allocated at the federal level on a weekly basis to the states and some federal and commercial partners. The states then are responsible for allocating vaccines to health systems, health departments and pharmacies. Providers do not have control over how many vaccines they receive, and numbers change on a weekly basis, said Salu Ribeiro, the CEO of Bay Area Phlebotomy, who is running community vaccination sites in the Mission and deals directly with vaccine supply.
San Francisco’s public health department put the supply situation in stark terms in an email to Mission Local: “Vaccine distribution to San Francisco is limited, inconsistent, and unpredictable, making vaccine planning difficult.” But if supply increases, the city has the capacity to vaccinate at least 17,000 people per day, with the goal of scaling up to 20,000.
Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente also both say that vaccine supply — not capacity — will dictate how many vaccines they can administer.
A Sutter spokesperson wrote, “We remain optimistic given recent news from the state that they anticipate a large increase in supply. We remain hopeful that this increase will positively impact our allotment.” But the health system’s ability to schedule appointments will depend on supply, and it is still too early to predict appointment availability, the spokesperson added.
A Kaiser Permanente spokesperson added that it expects that demand for vaccines will continue to outpace supply.
“As vaccine supplies continue to be a challenge, we also encourage members to sign up on My Turn to find appointments at other community vaccine sites, if available,” the spokesperson wrote.
Mission Local also reached out to Walgreens and CVS for comment on vaccine availability, but did not receive responses specific to San Francisco. Both companies also alluded to supply as an important factor in how many vaccines they will be able to offer.
In the Mission, the situation on April 15 may look slightly different; getting people vaccinated could depend more on how effective outreach is than supply.
The community vaccination site at Capp and 24th streets is reliably administering 500 shots a day. An additional site at Shotwell and 18th streets will open on the 15th with the capacity to vaccinate 400 people a day.
The site has not had an issue with vaccine supply, as it receives priority allocation from the city for the populations it serves. Whether those in hard-to-reach Latinx communities, such as those who are undocumented or do not speak English, will turn out for the vaccine after the expansion is the more pressing question.
Demand will likely dictate how long it takes to make an appointment, something Diane Jones, a retired HIV nurse and leader in the effort, said she could not estimate. When the city began to vaccinate essential workers, lines to register for an appointment at Capp snaked all the way to Mission Street. But on Monday, only a few days into the 50-and-above rollout, people could walk up and almost immediately make an appointment.
Volunteers expected a huge turnout after vaccine eligibility was expanded to those 50 and over and those with pre-existing conditions. But on April 1, the flood did not show up.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened, but perhaps the whole eligibility criteria just got too confusing — the message got too complicated, instead of simpler,” Jones said. “So we’re hoping that starting the 15th, with everybody being eligible, that people are going to come.”
Among other efforts, volunteers plan to canvas the various census tracts in the Mission this weekend to encourage individuals and businesses to register for an appointment and get vaccinated.