COVID-19 vaccine supply is limited and unpredictable. The recent expansion of eligibility by the state to include individuals over 65 years old has challenged the entire health system, including Kaiser Permanente.
It is important to know that providers are informed of their vaccine deliveries on a weekly basis and at this time we are awaiting additional vaccine delivery. The quantities vary each week and therefore we can only schedule appointments for one week at a time. And we are receiving a small supply of vaccine in comparison to our membership.
For context, we have about 1.4 million Kaiser Permanente members in California who are age 65 or older. We have received a weekly average of about 20,000 first and second doses (40,000 single doses) since early December. Until supply increases, it will take several months to provide the 2 doses needed to that 65 and older population alone. We have been vaccinating health care workers and are continuing to administer vaccine to the state’s earlier priority groups and, accounting for second doses on hand, this is using nearly all of our current weekly allocation of vaccine.
As a result, most individuals will not be able to schedule a vaccine appointment at this time. Our phone and online appointment systems have been overloaded with requests for appointments, but the problem is we do not have enough vaccine supply on hand to meet even a fraction of this demand. We received over 90,000 calls to our vaccine hotline last Thursday, up from 38,000 last Tuesday. This is in addition to calls to clinical and health plan contact centers.
We sincerely apologize to our members who have encountered long wait times when calling for a vaccination appointment and understand the frustration this causes. We are grateful for everyone’s patience and are taking action to alleviate the situation as we work on more ways to increase access to vaccinations as supply allows:
• We have increased staff in our call center, which already operates 24 hours a day.
• To avoid long hold times and to be able to meet the other medical care needs of our members, who are using the same phone and online tools, we are advising callers up front if there are no available vaccine appointments.
• By next week we will add an option to allow eligible members to self-schedule a vaccination appointment, based on vaccine supplies.
• We are reaching out to vaccination-eligible members with more information on what to expect, and will update the kp.org/covidvaccine website as new information becomes available.
• We are working with the state and counties to create mass vaccine locations and reach those most vulnerable in our communities. But we need more vaccine before these can open.
As production ramps up by manufacturers, we anticipate large deliveries over the coming weeks. Kaiser Permanente is committed to getting our supplies of COVID-19 vaccine to our members and communities as soon as possible and to communicate frequently about the status of vaccine and appointment availability. In addition to the expanded populations outlined by yesterday’s State guidance, we are continuing to vaccinate those in Phase 1A, which includes health care workers. As supplies increase, we will vaccinate more people.
At the same time, the prevalence of COVID-19 remains high in our communities and it is essential that everyone continue to protect themselves and others by using masks, hand washing, avoiding gatherings, and social distancing.