Why there's uneven supply of vaccine doses within San Diego County

Virus Outbreak California
Posted at 3:20 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 13:12:00-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- The winter weather isn’t the only thing complicating San Diego County’s vaccine rollout.

This week, we’ve seen examples of uneven supply at county-coordinated vaccine sites.

The Petco Park super station shut down Sunday for three days because a shipment of vaccine doses never arrived. At the same time, mass vaccination sites in Chula Vista and La Mesa advertised hundreds of available appointment slots.

The provider that runs those sites, Sharp Healthcare, announced Tuesday it had 2,000 available appointments.

It’s just one example of the tangled logistical web and uneven supply chains facing San Diego County’s vaccine managers.

“It’s mind-boggling,” said one county staff member.

Part of the uneven supply has to do with the fact that there are two vaccine manufacturers, said County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

“The Petco site is administering Moderna. The Chula Vista site is administering Pfizer. So when we miss a shipment of Moderna, that impacts one site that does not impact the other,” he said.

Moderna’s manufacturing facility is in Massachusetts, while Pfizer’s is in Michigan. This week, winter weather has significantly affected distribution, Fletcher said.

And there’s another, more complicated, reason. San Diego County gets a certain number of doses allocated from California each week and distributes those shots to vaccination sites.

Some of those sites are run by the county itself. Others are run by healthcare providers like Sharp, Scripps, or UC San Diego. UCSD staffs the PETCO site.

Those hospital systems don’t just get doses from the county. They also get some doses directly from Pfizer and Moderna for their patients and staff.

Two manufacturers. Multiple supply chains.

Sometimes, the hospital systems can shift doses from one allocation to another.

“We do generally have very good cooperation with our healthcare providers,” Fletcher said. “So they may get their own dosages for their internal use and then we supply dosages when they’re staffing a pod. But they’ve been very flexible and very willing to loan some of theirs to help bridge us through,” he said.

Fletcher noted the county wasn’t responsible for designing the system this way.

These tangled supply chains are one reason why the state is turning over vaccine distribution to Blue Shield over the coming weeks.

A county spokesman said they expect Blue Shield will consolidate things, so there are fewer steps in between the drugmakers and the vaccination sites. But they don’t have many details yet.

“We don’t know exactly what will happen,” Fletcher said. “I think they [Blue Shield] understand our situation and I think that they’re certainly not going to try and disrupt a system that by and large is generally working.”

The Blue Shield takeover will happen in stages. The company will start calling the shots for San Diego on March 7.