Pfizer or Moderna?
With COVID-19 vaccinations open to L.A. County residents 16 and over, people booking appointments often want one or the other.
To respond to the demand, the state's appointment booking site, My Turn, will soon begin listing which vaccine a clinic plans to administer. And many sites already list the information. One reason is that only Pfizer is approved for 16 and 17 years olds.
California Department of Public Health spokesperson Darrel Ng said "the best vaccine is the first one that's available."
For months, volunteers helping L.A. residents book appointments noticed partiality to the Johnson & Johnson shot, which only requires one dose.
But this week, L.A. stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported six cases of blood clots among those who received it. It's unclear when L.A. sites will resume administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Even now, with one fewer choice on the table, vaccine preference hasn't disappeared.
Liz Schwandt, who runs the volunteer program Get Out the Shot, offered a few tips to see what's available:
- Start with L.A. County's appointment site VaccinateLACounty.com and click on "How to Make an Appointment" highlighted in blue on the left-hand column.
- Below the first heading, click option 2: Look for an appointment.
- Scroll down past the first list of clinics and hospitals and pharmacies. You can try these links — if you'd rather visit a CVS, for example — but not every website will display vaccine type and you may have to call. CVS and other pharmacies usually release new slots early each morning.
- Look for the dark blue heading titled "Clinics and Hospitals Serving Community Members."
- Check the upper righthand corner of each listed vaccination site for the type of vaccine offered. Most will direct you to My Turn to book the appointment.
Schwandt said to consider calling the vaccination site prior to your appointment to make sure the vaccine you want is offered there — especially if you're 16 or adamant about getting a certain shot.
She said smaller clinics and pop-up sites tend to be more reliable when it comes to administering the exact vaccine listed on these websites. And it can be easier to get on the phone with someone there. Mega pods and larger hospitals may have access to both vaccines and could switch things up on you last minute.
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The shelf life of a thawed coronavirus vaccine is only a few hours, and expired vaccines have to be thrown out.
That inspired the New York-based startup Dr. B, the COVID-19 company meant to reduce vaccine waste created by ZocDoc cofounder Cyrus Massoumi. It's just arrived in Los Angeles, as the eligibility for vaccinations lifts next week.
Dr. B aims to reduce vaccine waste and the chaos that comes with it by matching vaccine providers with prospective patients within hours.
The company said it has secured three providers in the region so far.
To enroll in the waitlist, people have to sign up online at Dr. B's website and share certain health and geographic information to inform the site of local guidelines it needs to follow. When a free appointment pops up, one will receive a text notification. If they don't accept the appointment within a certain time frame, it gives the appointment to someone else.
Its test will come next week when anyone over the age of 16 can make an appointment.
Those using Dr. B would need to drop everything to travel to a vaccination site in a matter of hours. People with inflexible jobs or child care often don't have that luxury.
Already, a slew of community- and company-run sites are helping folks in L.A. find vaccine appointments, including Get Out the Shot and Find My Vax LA, run by recent college graduate Andrew Freidman. Health care startups like Carbon Health and Curative have made efforts to help people find vaccine appointments.
Dr. B's arrival also comes as the region's thinking on "cutting the line" for vaccine doses has shifted.
In February, when L.A. County began administering vaccines to health care workers those who lined up to see if they could score extra doses were often called "vaccine vultures" and chided on social media for not waiting in line.
But as more doses become available, the disdain some felt has faded, with the general consensus now shifting to use the vaccine, no matter what. L.A. County officials have urged health care workers to not throw away vaccines.
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Concerts, performances and other public gatherings are back on come April 15 — that is if attendees can prove they've been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19.
This announcement came on Friday, with no clear plan of how Southern Californians will prove their credentials.
Experts are worried about initiating this new strategy without a set of single standards or regulations. It raises a host of questions about forgery, health privacy records and accessibility.
"Each jurisdiction is kind of left to their own devices," said Rita Burke, an assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC. "There's no one set of guidelines which — in a situation like this — would be really, really helpful."
On eBay, she said, scammers are already selling replica vaccine cards for around $200.
The landscape of vaccine passports has evolved into an unregulated, crowded market. At least four Los Angeles entities have created their own, some working with others, including UCLA and health care startups Carbon Health and Healthvana.
President Biden's chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday on Politico's podcast that the federal government will not require the credentials for businesses or travelers.
And last week, the Biden administration said it's letting private companies take the reins over vaccine passports, opting out of creating a centralized system for verifications.
How California — and any other state — will use the digital tools is still unknown. And the state has remained quiet on its strategy.
New York officials have launched their own version called Excelsior Pass for concert and event-goers. Meanwhile, a Florida governor on Friday banned digital certifications for vaccines, citing concerns over privacy and "individual freedom."
"It's going to be hard for businesses to require a passport because nobody wants to be perceived as forcing people to take a vaccine," said Ken Mayer, co-founder and CEO of the health tech company SAFE Health.
The L.A. startup is working with IBM and a coalition called the Vaccination Credential Initiative to develop passports for people to show proof of vaccination or recent COVID-19 test via QR code. It's one of several tech companies working behind the scenes for what will essentially be a ticket to freedom for many.
But the system, some worry, could create a have-and-have-not world where those with the vaccination gain access to concerts, offices and international travel.
"I think COVID passports should not be a thing that further divides people and makes it even more difficult for people who are on the margins," said Jakub Hlavka, a fellow at the USC Schaeffer Institute.
Hlavka said that inequitable vaccine distribution — especially in rural areas unable to preserve vaccines at specific temperatures for long — will impact how freely people are able to travel internationally, or how families across borders will reconnect after the pandemic.
It's also raising concern about personal health record keeping.
"This is a new concept so it sounds simple until you get into the security and privacy details," said Eren Bali, the co-founder and CEO of Carbon Health, which runs L.A.'s vaccine appointment website.
Bali said that any digital application should be for a single use and not allow providers to store "random health data" such as diabetes or other personal medical information that is protected and has no bearing on public health.
The company recently developed its own digital certification card called Health Pass, which is automatically provided to individuals who completed vaccination through the city of Los Angeles.
"I think this is only relevant for highly infectious diseases," he said, pointing to yellow fever as another use case for a vaccine passport.
L.A.'s Department of Public Health did not immediately reply for comment, but in March, a spokesperson confirmed that the county was working with Healthvana to send out their own electronic passport.
Even if vaccine passports catch on, people will still receive a white vaccination record card after getting the shot. But it's unclear whether venues or businesses will accept them as proof, or how they'll be verified for authenticity.
Almost a third of California residents have been partially vaccinated. Health officials in Los Angeles County report 1.3 million people have been fully vaccinated, but that data doesn't include Pasadena and Long Beach.
One upside to a digital passport is that it could serve as an incentive for those yet to be vaccinated, said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, who represents much of the west San Fernando Valley and sits on the Assembly's Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee.
The committee oversees California's Department of Technology, responsible for partnering with state and local government to deliver digital services like MyTurn, the vaccination appointment portal run by the state.
"Hopefully it's something that'll motivate people who may be on the fence, knowing that they're able to do these things," he said.
But Burke says those who are skeptical about the vaccine are also the people wary of a vaccine passport.
Plus, proving a negative COVID-19 test "does not guarantee that you don't have COVID," she added. Venues and businesses should reconsider accepting days-old negative test results before letting customers inside.
"Showing a negative test is not really a good way of approaching this," Burke said. "Now, as we're opening up, we really need to focus on getting as many folks vaccinated as possible."
This story has been updated.
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