San Francisco will soon open three large vaccination sites around the city, and officials hope to eventually administer at least 10,000 doses a day, Mayor London Breed said Friday.
One site likely will open by the end of next week at City College’s main campus. But there’s a major hurdle holding the city back from opening the others: California’s limited vaccine stockpile, which has been unpredictably distributed around the state.
“We’re ready for more doses, we need more doses and we’re asking for more doses,” a visibly frustrated Breed said at a Friday news conference. “We can ramp up and open these sites the minute we have the vaccines. We’re mobilizing the entire city.”
Friday’s announcement comes after a week of finger-pointing and grievances over who is to blame for California’s sluggish vaccine rollout, which is among the slowest in the country. Not only is the distribution a massive logistical challenge, but it has also stoked political tension among elected officials who are all mad about the same issues: a shortage of vaccines and a lack of certainty of when their constituents will get them.
Meanwhile, hospitals are grappling with a deadly surge of cases, and new, highly contagious virus strains that could potentially wreak more havoc on the health care system. The stakes could not be higher for cities, counties and the state to get more shots into people’s arms.
“Our case rate is higher than it has ever been, but vaccines are our way out,” San Francisco’s public health director, Dr. Grant Colfax said at Friday’s event. “And we need more as soon as possible.”
San Francisco hopes to increase its distribution by partnering with private health care providers — which are receiving the majority of the state’s supply — to run the large vaccine sites. Those providers include Kaiser, Sutter, Dignity Health and UCSF. That means anyone in the city, with or without insurance, can go to the sites when it’s their turn.
The sites will be located at City College’s main campus on Ocean Avenue near Interstate 280, Moscone Center in SoMa and The SF Market, a wholesale produce site in the Bayview. Officials chose those sites because they are in or near neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by the virus.
The public health department also plans to administer vaccines at more than a dozen community clinics and at several pop-ups around the city.
On Tuesday, San Francisco residents will be able to access a website, www.sf.gov/vaccinenotify, where they can submit their contact and eligibility information, and then be notified via email when it’s their turn to get vaccinated.
But considering how slow the vaccine rollout has been thus far, city residents might be waiting a while for that email.
California has administered only about 28% of the approximately 3.5 million doses it has been given as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That puts California far behind most states.
San Francisco County has received 33,975 doses so far. By Friday, only 13,566 vaccines had been administered — which is about 1,200 more than the day prior. Those doses don’t include vaccines sent directly to the big health care providers.
Breed said all of the available doses have been assigned to someone, and the city anticipates using all of its available doses in the next week. Officials are asking the state for another “large volume order.”
Still, logistical issues remain: Some vaccines have been allocated to facilities that are still scaling up their operations, while others must be set aside so people can get the required second dose.
“We are not sitting on any vaccines,” Breed said. “They are all moving out the door.”
Officials in San Francisco — and around the Bay Area — have also complained that they are getting an inconsistent and unpredictable supply from the state, which makes it hard for them to plan how many appointments they can make or how much staff they will need on a given day.
San Francisco, for example, received 3,900 doses in the first week of January and then 11,825 the following week. Next week, the county was told it will receive 4,275 doses. That’s a large drop, without much reason given.
Meanwhile, residents who are eligible for the vaccine have reported mass confusion on how, when and where they can get their shots. Some who have called their providers for answers have had to wait several hours on hold.
And those agitated residents have inundated their elected officials with questions, wondering why the process seems confusing with scant information, though officials seemingly had ample time to prepare.
Supervisor Matt Haney channeled this frustration through Twitter this week, and sharply criticized the public health department for what he thought was a lackadaisical approach for vaccinating residents.
He said it was “incredibly inappropriate and just flat-out wrong” for private providers to be largely in charge of distribution, even though it’s up to the state to decide who gets what doses.
Still, he called for a more aggressive rollout by the city, and for the creation of a mass vaccination site, like at Petco Park in San Diego and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, which opened Friday. He will hold a hearing on the city’s distribution plan Wednesday.
Haney’s comments infuriated many in the public health department and in the mayor’s office, who said they were in the midst of working on a larger distribution plan — but their hands were tied by the short supply from the state.
Mayor Breed & DPH are announcing 3 mass vaccination sites, as well as community sites across the City.
This is a massive, welcomed shift from a week ago when their position was « no widespread distribution from the county. »
— Matt Haney (@MattHaneySF) January 15, 2021
“I know people are asking us to put up all these sites everywhere,” Breed said Friday. “Well, we’re putting up the sites. We just don’t have complete control of the vaccines.”
The state has blamed its erratic supply on the national shortage of vaccines and also on a lack of leadership from the federal government. As manufacturing ramps up, Darrel Ng, a California Department of Public Health spokesman, said Thursday that counties will begin seeing larger quantities of the vaccine and more predictability in the supply.
At the news conference, Breed said she understood why people were angry and confused about the vaccine rollout.
But, just as she has since March, the mayor urged more patience from her city.
“We’ve come too far to start falling apart now,” she said. “I know more than anyone, with everybody’s life riding on my shoulders, the importance of getting the city open as quickly as possible.”