The city of Long Beach this week expanded distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to food workers, the first group of essential workers in Los Angeles County outside the healthcare industry to be offered the critical shots.
Those eligible include grocery store and restaurant workers who live or work in Long Beach.
Drivers who deliver food through apps, including GrubHub, Instacart and UberEats, are not part of the new distribution phase. They will be included in the transportation group, which is Phase 1C, or the third round of vaccine access, city officials said.
Vaccinations are administered by appointment only at the Long Beach Convention Center, a mass vaccination site opened by the city Tuesday that has the capacity to vaccinate 1,800 people a day.
“Our vaccine rollout has gone quite well,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said Thursday. “I’ve been hearing about a lot of the horror stories in other places. That is not happening in Long Beach.”
In Los Angeles County, five large-scale vaccination sites opened Tuesday, with plans to reach 20,000 people daily. A city-run site previously opened at Dodger Stadium.
The addition of such mass vaccination sites have produced long lines that often take hours for residents to get through and widespread confusion among older residents, who have tried to book appointments but have faced difficulty accessing scheduling websites.
Long Beach has its own health department and, therefore, its own vaccine supply. Garcia said it makes sense that his city — which is larger than many other major metropolitan areas, including Cleveland, Oakland and Pittsburgh — stands on its own. With that autonomy, health officials are able to be nimble and make decisions more quickly. His team has been planning vaccine distribution for six months, building off the city’s coronavirus testing operation. As of Wednesday, more than 21,000 vaccines have been administered.
The city’s vaccination program is “setting up to be a model locally, and even nationally,” spokeswoman Chelsey Magallon said.
Garcia said an early, key decision was to not plan out multiple days of distribution but instead to vaccinate as many people as possible with the doses on hand. He acknowledged the move is riskier because it can lead to shortages.
“I said, ‘If we run out, that’s a good problem to have. Don’t be worried about running out. Be focused on getting as many doses out as possible,’ ” the mayor said.
He noted that the city still reserves second doses for those who have gotten their first shot, but it does so based on projections for when new shipments will arrive. Officials do not stockpile second doses “in a locker somewhere,” Garcia said.
Garcia said that next week, the city will begin vaccinating teachers and staff at Long Beach Unified School District, and soon after that, faculty and staff at Long Beach City College.
Appointments for this week are fully booked, but officials said workers can reach out to their employers for details or check the city’s vaccination portal, VaxLB. Dose allocation is determined by the federal government on a weekly basis, and Magallon said supplies are “extremely limited.”
Food workers seeking a vaccine must provide proof of employment in Long Beach, or if they work outside the city, proof of residency and employment.
The city continues to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes, firefighters, EMTs and others who are part of what the state calls Phase 1A in its vaccination schedule.
Residents who are 75 and older — who are part of Phase 1B — became eligible to make an appointment last Saturday. L.A. County began offering vaccine appointments for residents 65 and older on Tuesday.
The vaccine effort is emotional for Long Beach’s mayor. His mother, a medical assistant who emigrated from Peru, died of COVID-19 on July 26. Two weeks later, Garcia’s stepfather died of the disease after fighting for his life on a ventilator. The city has reported 562 deaths and more than 45,000 infections among its residents.
“I do have a personal drive in that I feel like with every person getting the vaccine, we are potentially saving someone’s life,” Garcia said. “This is the top priority in the city. We have to wake up every single day and be obsessed about how we get the vaccine out.”
Vaccine basics outside Long Beach
The city of Los Angeles is also offering the vaccine to anyone in Los Angeles County who is 65 or older, through a different online portal. That website connects patients to sites including Dodger Stadium, San Fernando Recreation Park, Lincoln Park, Hansen Dam and Crenshaw Christian Center.
Orange County residents can sign up using the Othena app. Information for Riverside County residents can be found at the Riverside University Health System, while San Bernardino County residents can find vaccine information on the county’s website. Ventura County is offering vaccinations to residents 75 and older, who can sign up for appointments online.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.