Today, Californians aged 50 or older became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. But even as eligibility expands greatly, the future of the federally-backed mass vaccination site at the Oakland Coliseum remains unclear.
The Coliseum site is scheduled to begin administering Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine starting today. But it’s slated to close altogether on April 11, just days before anyone aged 16 and older will become eligible for the shot.
The site is one of two vaccination centers in California being managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, or Cal OES. The other is on the California State University, Los Angeles campus. Both sites have been reportedly able to administer about 7,500 shots a day.
The Biden-Harris administration authorized the L.A. and Oakland sites to run for eight weeks, a time period that will end on April 11. The sites are closing down because no one from the state has asked the federal government to keep them running, as CapRadio first reported this week.
Cal OES said in a press release on March 26 that it and FEMA were “coordinating closely with local officials on the possibility of reusing the two sites.”
California’s two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, released a joint statement Wednesday calling on FEMA to work with state and local governments to keep the sites in Oakland and L.A. operational.
“While we understand that some federal mass vaccination sites may have been more effective than others, the Oakland Coliseum and California State University, Los Angeles, sites are essential parts of California’s vaccine distribution efforts,” the statement said.
But, so far, no plans to keep the site running have been made public.
Jon Gudel, a spokesperson for Cal OES, said Tuesday that the Oakland and L.A. sites will continue to run through the deadline from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, distributing Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine beginning today, but said no additional information was available at the time.
“While management of these sites by the state and federal government is scheduled to sunset on April 11, the state is actively working with local health jurisdictions on the best way to vaccinate eligible communities throughout the pandemic,” Cal OES said in a press release Tuesday.
Neetu Balram, public information manager for the Alameda County Public Health Department, says the department is talking with the state “to learn more about what it means to transition the site,” with vaccine supply and operational capacity being their key considerations.
“In order to rapidly scale access to COVID-19 vaccine for the communities, target populations, and geographies identified by Alameda County, the county is releasing multiple bid opportunities for vaccination services in the coming weeks,” Balram told The Oaklandside Wednesday.
The state has been leasing space at the Coliseum for $100,000 per month, as well as paying for personnel, water, and excess parking, according to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority board.
In a March 19 report, OACCA executive director Henry L. Gardner wrote that OES said it planned to “transition the operations to a local entity in a few weeks,” but that the state agency did not specify who that might be. Gardner assumed it would be a county entity, “or at least under county management.”
“We have asked that they give us adequate notice of any hand-off so we can ensure there will be no interruptions in the operations,” Gardner wrote.
Can the Coliseum host A’s games and vaccinations?
The A’s home opener against the Astros begins at 7:05 p.m. tonight. Gardner wrote in his report he was confident the site could accommodate A’s fans and those getting vaccinated at the same time.
Now that Alameda County is in the orange tier of the state’s reopening plans, the Coliseum can seat fans in the stands at up to 33% capacity, but the team is only opening at 26%, or just under 12,200 people, to follow social distancing guidelines.
“It was unknown if we were going to have fans for opening day,” Dave Kaval, A’s president, told The Oaklandside. “It’ll be a historic day.”
Kaval says the Coliseum has repeatedly hosted multiple events in years past, so they’re prepared to continue to run the vaccination center at the north parking lots while A’s fans enter and park on the south side.
As to the future of the Coliseum’s mass vaccination site, Kaval — who also sits on the Coliseum Mass Vaccinations Task Force — hopes it can continue.
“It’s our position that it should be extended,” he said. “It would be really beneficial to keep it open until everyone who wants to be vaccinated can be.”
Kaval also worries that if FEMA leaves Oakland, the smaller pop-up vaccination sites it runs, like the one held at Allen Temple Baptist Church in deep east Oakland last month, could also dry up.
Robert Barker, a spokesperson for FEMA, tells The Oaklandside that the federal mass vaccination centers are just one part of a national strategy to expand vaccination options, which include using retail pharmacies and expanding capabilities at qualified health centers in neighborhoods across the country.
“FEMA has received and is reviewing requests from California congressional members, and we are working closely with state agencies to explore options for continued support to state and locally led efforts,” Barker said via email.
Concerns over equity at Coliseum vaccination site
Between the Oakland and L.A. sites, nearly 554,000 vaccines have been given as of Monday, according to Cal OES. Of those shots, nearly 70,000 shots have been administered at targeted mobile clinics “within the community to amplify and provide distribution to areas that otherwise lack sufficient support for vaccinations.”
According to Cal OES, at the Coliseum, nearly 41% of the shots were administered to white residents and 27% to Asian Americans. Less than 20% were given to Latinos and just 4% were given to Black residents.
At the targeted mobile clinics, those numbers better reflect Oakland’s diversity: more than 28% were Latino, nearly 23% Black, more than 21% Asian, and just over 20% white.
While the mobile clinics make strides in equity, they lack in volume compared to the vaccination effort at the Coliseum.
For example, Cal OES reports vaccinating up to 7,500 people a day at the Coliseum, while a Cal OES/FEMA mobile vaccine clinic planned for this Saturday at The Community Church in West Oakland is limited to just 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
With a large number of people still awaiting their turn to be vaccinated and ongoing serious difficulties in finding available appointments, local county health officials say vaccine supply and equitable distribution are important factors.
Balram says all plans are dependent on getting enough vaccines to keep up with expectations set by federal and state leaders, as well as distribution decisions by the state’s third-party administrator, Blue Shield. She says it’s important to note that all doses allocated to Alameda County won’t come to the health department for dissemination.
“We assess all potential vaccination strategies with an equity lens and a goal of improving access to vaccines for residents and workers who are being disproportionally impacted by COVID-19,” she said.