While Los Angeles County still has a long way to go to establish herd immunity, the region is starting to see evidence that the increasing COVID-19 vaccinations are beginning to help curb transmission, the county’s health director said Monday.
Since the beginning of 2021, the number of new infections has fallen each week following the unprecedented winter surge. At the same time, more and more people were being vaccinated across the county.
At nursing homes and hospitals — the first settings where people became eligible for doses— there have been major declines in the number of people becoming infected, L.A. County public health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
“At our skilled nursing facilities, we will not see a surge like we saw in April, May and June. The vaccinations are holding there,” Ferrer said. “We have a lot of evidence about how effective they are in that setting already.”
Ferrer also noted “huge decreases” in the number of health care workers who are getting infected.
“I think this is good news — lots of people vaccinated, much lower rates of transmission,” she added.
As of Friday, more than 3.2 million people in the county had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with more than 1 million fully vaccinated.
Ferrer said there’s ample evidence that vaccinations are really protecting people “at this point in time.” But questions remain: “How long are they going to protect us for? And how far out is that protection? And how much is that protection gonna hold completely against any transmission?”
Those questions arise partly from concerns over the more contagious coronavirus variants being found in the county, including a homegrown variant.
And while Ferrer highlighted evidence that vaccines are starting to stymie virus spread, there are concerns that the transmission rate is at the same time creeping up.
Though the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 each day continues to decrease, it’s now declining at a significantly slower rate than before, and this reflects a slight increase in the rate of transmission, according to Department of Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.
The county’s model most recently calculated a transmission rate of 0.93 — which is higher than last week’s estimate of 0.87, according to Ghaly.
“Time will tell what this really means, and we don’t have sufficient information yet to know if this will result in an uptick in infections, but we all need to remain vigilant,” Ghaly said.
Ghaly said that number could have gone up for a variety of reasons, including more people going out and mixing with others, or because of the more transmissible coronavirus variants spreading in the county.
“I think the message is that we just need to continue to be careful to remember that the vaccination obviously hasn’t reached the entire Los Angeles County population, that we want people to take advantage of a vaccine as soon as one is available to them, and we’re working to get that out as quickly as possible,” Ghaly said.
The pace of vaccinations has sped up statewide, with California seeing a record-setting number of doses administered last week. The state’s most populous county, L.A. has given out the most doses, according to state data.
But still, vaccine supply continues to be an issue.
This week, there were over 633,000 appointment slots available in L.A. County, but it only had enough doses for 280,000 appointments.
“We do hope that supply will increase in the coming weeks and allow us to vaccinate even more people,” Ferrer said.
The county was anticipating to get another 280,000 vaccine doses this week, with supplies expected to increase over the next few weeks as the county begins getting larger quantities of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.