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COVID-19 vaccines easier to get in L.A. County

While COVID-19 vaccines have been in short supply in parts of Los Angeles County, that dearth is easing in some places, officials say.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health says the updated COVID-19 vaccine is now available at all eight of its public health centers — in downtown L.A., Hollywood, Willowbrook, Monrovia, Pacoima, Pomona, Whittier and Lancaster. Two weeks ago, the health department began offering the updated vaccine at clinics at Ted Watkins Memorial Park near Watts and Eugene A. Obregón Park in East L.A., which are open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

And all of the county’s mobile vaccine teams offer COVID-19 vaccinations. The county’s mobile vaccination program is intended for residents who have difficulty leaving home to get vaccinated; requests can be made either online or by calling (833) 540-0473.

For those who are eager to get the updated vaccine as soon as possible, “I hope people can take advantage of the places where there is ample vaccine available,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

But shortages haven’t eased for all vaccine providers, or for all age groups.

St. John’s Community Health says its clinics in South, Central and East L.A. haven’t received enough doses. The health system had requested 3,000 vaccines weeks ago, but as of last week, had received only 500.

“We’re unable to get enough vaccine to meet the demand for the new COVID shot,” Jim Mangia, president and chief executive of St. John’s Community Health, said in an interview Tuesday.

Federally qualified health centers like St. John’s “that serve low-income people and people of color must be prioritized in vaccine shipments,” Mangia added in a statement. “Immunity has waned significantly, and it is critical to get people basic protection against the virus as school is back in full swing.”

A complicating factor is how the purchase of vaccines has dramatically changed since the federal public health emergency was declared over in May. During the pandemic emergency, vaccines were free and there were no commercial purchases of doses. Now, “commercially purchased doses have been much slower to come than anybody anticipated,” Ferrer said. “I think everyone thought they would have a much larger supply by now.”

Some parents have been frustrated trying to find COVID-19 vaccines for young children, Ferrer said, but the county does have pediatric doses on hand. Ferrer said she suspects there has been a more limited supply of doses for children under 5, but there’s some indication that more pediatric doses have become available in recent days and “we’re hoping that that situation is starting to resolve.”

“We think that for people who desperately want to get vaccinated right away, with all of our [county Department of Public Health] clinics being open now, there’s opportunities there,” Ferrer said.

COVID-19 vaccines should be available for free to all residents, although some may need to get vaccinated at an in-network provider to avoid out-of-pocket costs. Residents are urged to check with their health plan to learn which sites are considered in-network.

For those who are uninsured or under-insured, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set up a “Bridge Access Program” that provides no-cost COVID-19 vaccinations, which will remain available for the next 15 months. A number of pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS as well as non-chains, participate in the Bridge Access Program.

Kaiser Permanente members can get vaccinated by the county Department of Public Health with no out-of-pocket costs; the county bills Kaiser for COVID-19 immunizations given to its members.

In fact, the county health department is considered “in-network for everyone,” Ferrer said. “We’re the public health department. So we’re in-network for everyone, and we bill all insurers.

“We have to be clear that nobody should have out-of-pocket expenses” for a COVID-19 vaccine this season, she said.

Federal authorities are urging everyone 6 months and older to get an updated COVID-19 vaccine this autumn since protection weakens over time. “Receiving an updated COVID-19 vaccine can restore protection,” the CDC says, and “last season, those who received a 2022-2023 COVID-19 vaccine saw greater protection against illness and hospitalization than those who did not receive a 2022-2023 vaccine.”

Getting an annual COVID-19 vaccination is similar to getting a yearly flu immunization, Ferrer said.

“There really is an additional protective advantage to getting another updated vaccine this fall,” she said.

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