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Comparing The COVID-19 Vaccination Process Of California To Florida's

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have now a tale of two states distributing vaccines. Today California joins nearly every other state in expanding vaccine eligibility to anyone age 16 and up. There's a lot of pent-up demand in the most populous state, Florida, another very big state, expanded vaccine eligibility at the beginning of last week, and there are now a lot more shots available than people ready to receive them. What's going on? Let's talk with station reporters Jackie Fortier with KPCC in Los Angeles and Stephanie Colombini of WUSF in Tampa. Good morning to you both.

STEPHANIE COLOMBINI, BYLINE: Good morning.

JACKIE FORTIER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Jackie, first I just want to ask about this news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine - temporary pause there. Does that seem like Californians are any more hesitant to get the vaccine?

FORTIER: Not that we've seen. I mean, today is really the first time many Californians under 50 have been able to sign up for the vaccine. There's a lot of pent-up demand. Bakersfield is a great example. In early April, a megasite there, a couple hours outside of LA, opened up vaccinations to all adults earlier than the rest of the region. And when "Star Trek" actor Wil Wheaton told his 1 million followers that he got vaccinated there, Bakersfield trended on Twitter, and health officials ended up having to close the site to walk-ins...

INSKEEP: Wow.

FORTIER: ...Because so many people drove up from LA in search of a shot.

INSKEEP: The power of social media. So what happened in Florida, Stephanie, when Florida made all adults eligible for vaccines?

COLOMBINI: You know, it was definitely busy, but not out of control considering how many millions more people became eligible last week. Florida prioritized seniors above all other groups of people back in January and February. And that's really when we saw our mad dash - you know, websites crashing and hourslong waits at vaccination sites and whatnot. But things have calmed down since then. And there's just so many more opportunities for getting a vaccine now. There's pharmacies and health clinics. It's not just those mass sites. So if you want a shot, it is easier to get one.

INSKEEP: Even though the J&J vaccine has been taken out of circulation for a few days.

COLOMBINI: Yeah, that definitely complicated things, though. Four of Florida's biggest vaccination sites are run by FEMA, and they started exclusively offering J&J for first doses last week. So there was a lot of confusion on Tuesday when people showed up and couldn't get shots. And the state's pop-up sites in underserved communities and for homebound residents were also using J&J, so now they're having to switch gears. But the governor says there's plenty of Pfizer and Moderna available.

INSKEEP: Well, are we reaching the point in Florida where officials are going to have to get - I'm not sure aggressive is the word, but trying to really persuade more people to come in?

COLOMBINI: Yeah. You know, South Florida is busiest right now because it was hit the hardest. But even in Tampa, major city health officials say there's lots of appointments available. And in general, health experts say we're at a turning point in the state where there needs to be a shift in focus, sort of from helping those eager to get their shots to educating and engaging people hesitant to get vaccinated, like Tampa resident Tony Brewington. He actually got sick with COVID in January, but told me he's not ready to jump in line for a shot.

TONY BREWINGTON: I'm afraid to put something in my body that I'm not 100% sure of, and I'm just not sure of the vaccine at this time. I'm not saying it works, it does work. I think I need to do more research for myself so I'll be able to make my own educated decision.

COLOMBINI: And so I've talked with health experts who say listening to concerns from people like Brewington and having conversations about the vaccine needs to be a priority - you know, helping those on the fence understand how the shots work, why they're necessary to get this pandemic under control and that the risks that are involved still pale in comparison to some of the risks associated with getting severe COVID-19.

INSKEEP: OK. So they're trying to bring up demand in Florida.

Jackie, let's go back to California. Do officials think they will, over time, be able to keep up the supply to meet demand?

FORTIER: Well, California Governor Gavin Newsom seems to think so. He said Johnson & Johnson vaccines make up 4% of the state's doses. He said, you know, it's a minor speed bump, and he's sticking to the same plan to fully reopen the California economy in mid-June. So it's not going to greatly affect the state's overall vaccination effort. But Jim Mangia, the CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center, says having to use Pfizer presents a lot more problems. They have a network of clinics that serve a lot of low-income people in LA.

JIM MANGIA: I feel very concerned about tracking down people experiencing homelessness who we meet at a shelter. Where do we find them in three weeks? How do we contact them? How do we find them? You know, kind of collecting a whole bunch of information - getting a sense for where people stay, where do they sleep at night if they're not in the shelter? It's definitely a setback.

FORTIER: Mangia told me that they were vaccinating about 1,000 homeless people a day in LA. Now he's not sure how many they'll be able to vaccinate because they have to spend so much time gathering information.

INSKEEP: Are officials looking a couple of weeks ahead and thinking, right now there's this scramble for vaccines, but we might have a softening of demand in a couple of weeks?

FORTIER: I think it's going to take a while before we see demand lessen in California. I mean, just a few weeks ago, we had thousands of cases a day. Hospitals in LA were on the verge of deciding who would get medical care because they were so overrun with COVID patients. That really showed people how serious the coronavirus is. And vaccines can also mean employment. A lot of in-person gig work and jobs in Hollywood are looking to hire vaccinated people. These are industries that have been largely shut down for much of the last year, so getting a vaccine can mean getting a paycheck.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, thanks for the update to you both from two different states. Jackie Fortier is with member station KPCC in Los Angeles. And Stephanie Colombini of WUSF is in Tampa, Fla. Thanks to you both.

COLOMBINI: Thanks.

FORTIER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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