LA County vaccine supply remains limited as concern over COVID variants persists

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As Los Angeles County pushes toward loosening more business restrictions amid a steady drop in coronavirus cases, the county's public health director warned that highly infectious variants of the virus appear to be spreading.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday that of 73 COVID test specimens that were closely examined over the past week, more than half were identified as "variants of concern" -- 34% of them being a California variant and 29% a variant first found in the United Kingdom.

"This signifies that 63% of the variant sequences this past week are what we call 'variants of concern' because they have the probability of increased transmissibility and potentially more severe disease," she said.

Concern has been growing about the variants because they are more easily passed from person to person, and at least one study has suggested that the California variant could potentially be slightly more resistant to current vaccines.

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Ferrer stressed that the specimens tested in the past week were not chosen in a "scientifically, randomly selected sample," so "we have to interpret really carefully the results."

Concern over variants comes as the county reports it's not getting enough vaccines and is prioritizing second doses again. Ferrer said the county received about 280,000 doses this week.

"We're back to only doing second doses because we just did not get enough vaccine to be able to honor all the second dose allocations, continue our commitment to our federally qualified health centers and community partners in hard-hit communities, and be able to open up at our large capacity sites for first dose appointments," Ferrer said.

"We have over 600,000 appointment slots available this week. More than half of them are not open just because we don't have doses," she said.

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Meanwhile, local officials continue to urge residents eligible for a vaccine to get inoculated.

Magic Johnson, Arsenio Hall and Danny Trejo were at USC to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines on camera. L.A. Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas administered the shots to Johnson, Hall and Trejo at a city-run site at USC's University Park campus to specifically encourage people in South L.A. to get the vaccine.

"I am so happy to be here with Danny and my 40-year friend Arsenio Hall to take this vaccination because it's so important. I've been doing everything the right way, wearing my mask, cleaning my hands all the time, I've been taking a COVID-19 test seems like every two weeks,'' said Johnson, who received the Pfizer vaccine.

Johnson, Trejo and Hall, dubbed the "New L.A. Dream Team" by Mayor Eric Garcetti, were joined by County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, City Councilman Curren Price and Ferrer to urge the South L.A. community to get vaccinated.

"Decades of systemic racism and inequitable distribution of the very resources that support good health have left these communities especially vulnerable to the pandemic," Ferrer said. "In order to tackle the stark injustice this pandemic has laid bare, the vaccine rollout must be laser focused on addressing issues of equity and considerations for reducing barriers to vaccination."

City News Service contributed to this service.

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