Los Angeles County has administered nearly 2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, making the light at the end of the tunnel shine a little brighter for an area that has been the epicenter of the pandemic.
However, vaccine distribution data from the L.A. County Department of Public Health shows that affluent neighborhoods have a greater percentage of residents vaccinated than low-income areas that many Black and Latino residents call home.
“The findings are deeply concerning and provide further illustration of the deeply rooted health inequities that exist in our society,” Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the L.A DPH, said last Friday. “The findings clearly indicate very significant inequities in the distribution of vaccines to date. These inequities are unjust and unacceptable and demand renewed efforts to address them.”
Glendale, with at least 26,141 residents having received at least one dose of the vaccines, is at 15.1% of its population being inoculated. The unincorporated La Crescenta-Montrose community has had at least 3,061 residents start getting vaccinated, representing 18.4% of its population.
Among the other tri-cities, Pasadena has had 20.3% of its residents vaccinated while Burbank is at 14.1%.
Meanwhile, more affluent L.A. suburbs are showing much higher percentages of their populations as having been vaccinated already. The adjacent La Cañada Flintridge has one of the highest percentages of residents vaccinated with 26.5%, along with San Marino (27%), Beverly Hills (29.2%), Rolling Hills Estates (28.3%), Bel Air (30.8%) and Century City (31.2%).
According to a 2019 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.6% of La Cañada’s population is 65 and older, and 54% are white. By comparison, the Census Bureau estimated that 17.6% of Glendale’s population was 65 or older and that 74.1% of the total is white, while La Crescenta-Montrose is 16.6% 65 or older and 61.1% white. (It is worth noting that the limitation of options on prior Census forms often forces residents of some ethnicities — Armenians or Persians, for example — to select “white.”)
The vaccination rate among residents in poorer communities ravaged by the pandemic is significantly lower. San Fernando, which has one of the highest case rates in L.A. County, has only 10.5% of its residents vaccinated and it is lower in other cities with similar demographics such as Pacoima (9.7%), Boyle Heights (9.4%), East Los Angeles (9.3%) and South Gate (8.8%).
In L.A. County, 1,106,275 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Feb. 14. Of those residents, 33.5% are white, 23.1% are Latino, 19% are Asian and 5.2% are Black.
The data also shows gender inequity with 58.6% of people receiving at least one dose of the vaccine being women.
“In terms of owing communities that really have not had the kind of access to vaccinations that they ought to be having, we have and do extend our apologies,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Monday. “I think it’s not about talk at this point, though. It’s really about shifting the ability of us to make sure that we’re improving access in those communities.”
County officials have addressed the vaccine coverage inequities by prioritizing new vaccination sites in areas with the lowest rates. They also expanded mobile vaccination units and transportation support to seniors and residents who have limited mobility.
The state attempted to address the issue of inequity with its recently developed online system called My Turn, which sets up an appointment and generates a special code for people who sign up and are eligible for vaccination. However, the Los Angeles Times reported this week that some of those codes circulated online to people not yet eligible for the vaccine.
“The My Turn system actually really advantages those people who are able to stay on their computers for long periods of time to get their appointments and disadvantages those folks who neither have access to the internet or to a computer or just are working and don’t have time to be on their computers for hours at a time looking for where an appointment may be able to open up,” Ferrer said.
To resolve the issue, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the state will develop individual codes rather than group codes.
“We don’t like to see those abuses,” he said. “The issue of equity is not a platitude; it’s not a platform; it’s not a promise; it’s one we’re starting to deliver on with pop-up sites and regional efforts to really identify the most vulnerable and those that deserve more of our time and attention. In terms of the cultural competency and in language outreach, that’s necessary to meet people where they are.”
County Supervisor Hilda Solis expressed her disappointment in those who took advantage of the system to get ahead in the line for vaccinations.
“I am not surprised. I’m disgusted,” Solis said on Tuesday during a L.A County Board of Supervisors meeting. “And I’m not disgusted at the work that we’re doing, but I’m more disgusted about the behavior of people in the public that are not being responsible.”
Simon said that the high number of past infections may be contributing to the decline of cases and hospitalizations throughout L.A. County.
He estimates that 30-40% of the population that had past infections have some level of immunity, and with the growing number of people vaccinated, county officials are hopeful that the case rate will continue to drop.
However, Simon added that residents must remain cautious and “continue to be vigilant adhering to guidelines.”
“We don’t know yet what level of vaccination and protection from infection will be required to get herd immunity across the county,” he said. “Various experts have speculated a whole range, as low as 50-60% of coverage, which I think most experts now believe is far too low, to much higher estimates of 80-90%.”
The percentage will likely have to be higher with the variants that are more transmissible.
“I think we will know over time as we see numbers of new cases drop dramatically,” said Simon. “That I think will be the best clue that we’re reaching herd immunity, and particularly if we see it across the entire county. And it will be at that point that we can begin to relax some of the precautions that remain in place.”
L.A. COUNTY, U.S. REACH NEW MILESTONES
Though health officials are encouraged by the decline of new cases and hospitalizations, the number of deaths remains distressing.
Los Angeles County surpassed 20,000 deaths related to the coronavirus after reporting 157 deaths on Tuesday.
“As we continue to bear witness to the devastating loss of life from COVID-19, we ask that everyone continue to use the tools we know work to slow the spread of the virus: wear a mask and keep 6 feet of distance anytime you are around others not in your household,” Ferrer said in a statement. “This virus is still easily transmitted among people in contact with each other, and we must do all we can to continue the momentum of the decreases we are seeing in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”
The country reached an even more harrowing milestone on Monday with more than 500,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began last year.
“That’s more Americans who’ve died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined,” President Joe Biden said on Monday. “That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on earth.”
Vice President Kamala Harris joined Biden in mourning those who died.
“While we’ve been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” the president said. “We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news. We must do so to honor the dead but equally important care for the living, those they left behind.”
Zane Hill contributed to this report.