LOS ANGELES — While some health care centers have received thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses, others say they're still waiting or have received very few in comparison.

Clínica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights reported that it received 100 doses this week. Executive Director Carlos Vaquerano added that the clinic has been waiting for this delivery since November when it applied with the county to become a vaccination site. On Saturday, they began the process of vaccinating their patients.

What You Need To Know

  • Clínica Romero in East L.A. received 100 COVID-19 vaccine doses this week

  • The clinic serves 1,000 patients who are aged 75 years or older

  • Vaccinations at the clinic began Saturday, February 6

  • The executive director said they're not getting enough vaccines

"We are happy that we are providing vaccines to our senior patients," said Vaquerano. "We’re not getting enough vaccines. We don’t understand why, but that… that’s the reality."

Of the clinic’s 11,000 or so patients, 1,000 are at least 75 years old, which means the initial delivery won’t even cover the clinic’s elderly patients, let alone the rest of its patients who have been testing positive at higher rates compared to the rest of L.A. County.

"In the county overall it’s about 16%, while at Clínica Romero it’s about 30-40%," said Vaquerano.

According to the county Department of Public Health, the seven-day daily average as of February 4 was 9.9%. Vaquerano explained that the positivity rate is high at the clinic because many of its patients are essential workers who don’t have the option to work from home.

"We have the community who live in very crowded apartments, ten people living in two-bedroom apartment or one single apartment," he said. "And that obviously puts everyone at risk."

He added that while county vaccination sites are an option for some people, many of their patients lack internet to book an appointment. Some also lack a car and rely on public transportation, so a drive-thru vaccination site isn’t an option.

Dr. Efrain Talamantes is the Chief Operating Officer at AltaMed, a clinic that serves a largely Latino population also in underserved areas, including another COVID hot spot in Santa Ana.

"Drive-thru vaccination super sites do not cater to all and are not reaching those hardest hit," he said. "Online registration and health literacy are real barriers for our patients, including the elderly, and if you don’t have a vehicle or reliable transportation, you’re less likely to get access to a vaccine at these super sites."

"Government and public health officials must meet the challenge," Dr. Talamantes continued. "An equitable vaccine rollout that will reach more Latinos, Blacks, and those who have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic means that community health centers must receive more vaccines. We have been vaccinating these communities for decades and have built trust with our patients to overcome many of the challenges they face. It also means working with community partners to meet people where they work, places of worship, and where they grocery shop."

“It’s a really, really challenging time for our community," said Vaquerano. "So we’re hoping our elected officials at the county and state will continue helping us.”

Vaquerano hopes his clinic can continue helping people like Ana Canales, who lives in an area with some of the highest case numbers. The 78-year-old only spoke English and explained how she’s been waiting to get a vaccine.

But Saturday morning meant no more waiting for Canales. She became the first patient at Clínica Romero to receive the vaccine. As the needle went into her arm, a small crowd of socially distanced clinic employees applauded. And Canales said she now feels protected.

Vaquerano reported that a second delivery of 100 doses is expected in the next week or two.

"I’m hoping that we will get more," he said.

Vaquerano noted that all federally qualified health centers deserve to be part of the solution to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, and that can only happen with more equal distribution of vaccines.

"For decades, community health centers have risen to the many public health challenges to meet the health and wellbeing needs of the most vulnerable," said Dr. Talamantes.

Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán, who represents the San Pedro area, wrote a letter to Gov. Newsom asking him to create a plan to ensure that underserved areas and communities of color are not left behind during the vaccine distribution process. Among her recommendations, Barragán wrote:

"The state should consider earmarking shipments of the vaccine to be delivered directly to providers in underserved communities with the highest rates of infection and mortalities, including community health centers who serve underinsured and underserved communities."