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Dodger Stadium Becomes Site For Mass Coronavirus Vaccinations

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Angelenos are rolling up their sleeves and heading to Dodger Stadium - not for batting practice, but for vaccinations. Jackie Fortier of member station KPCC reports it's an effort to quickly immunize thousands of health workers.

JACKIE FORTIER, BYLINE: The first thing you notice in the Dodger Stadium parking lot isn't the view of downtown Los Angeles or the swaying palm trees. It's the bright orange traffic cones, more than 20,000 of them dotting acres of black pavement to keep cars twisting and turning through long lines on their way to the COVID-19 vaccine. LA Deputy Mayor Jeff Gorell says for once, the traffic is intentional.

JEFF GORELL: Bumper-to-bumper traffic lined up and slowly snaking their way through the sea of cones.

FORTIER: It's a technique they perfected when Dodger Stadium was a testing site.

GORELL: We were, you know, testing over 10,000 people a day here. But really, the future is with the vaccinations.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRILLING)

FORTIER: This week, workers were assembling carts that will help health workers move among the cars with multiple doses of vaccine. Switching Dodger Stadium from testing to vaccinating is part of an effort to speed up California's painfully slow vaccine rollout. The state received the most doses of any in the country but has only administered about a quarter of its supply. Gorell hopes Dodger Stadium will help change that. Staff will vaccinate 12,000 people a day.

GORELL: We've begun to develop some plans to possibly go to 24 hours a day if we have both the team members to staff it, as well as the vaccinations coming in to support a 24-hour operation.

FORTIER: That may sound like a lot, but Karin Michels, an epidemiologist at UCLA, says it's just not fast enough.

KARIN MICHELS: We'll have to try to do better.

FORTIER: She says mass vaccination sites like Dodger Stadium are a good start, but LA County has 10 million people, roughly the same population as the entire state of Georgia. Officials, she says, need to think bigger.

MICHELS: We need probably 10 times or maybe 20 times Dodger Stadium. Convention centers need to be transformed into vaccine sites. We need to be much more ambitious.

FORTIER: Right now, there are 75 vaccination sites in LA. But even with those in place, LA health officials estimate it will be summer before they start vaccinating healthy adults. Michels says faster vaccinations are urgent because of the new, more contagious variant.

MICHELS: We are running out of time. We need to get as many people vaccinated as we can because this new mutant is so infectious that it could really make the situation that is already very bad even worse.

FORTIER: She's talking about the current COVID surge that's hammering LA hospitals. Intensive care unit beds have been full for weeks. Administrators are teetering on implementing battlefield triage medicine, where care is given to people more likely to survive. And on top of that, about 15,000 Angelenos are testing positive every day for the virus. Michels says the only way to stop it is to vaccinate.

MICHELS: The vaccine is not going to do anybody any good if it's sitting in the freezer. So it needs to get into the people.

FORTIER: Local health officials are under pressure to open up vaccines to people 65 and over, which was OK'd this week by Governor Gavin Newsom. But LA County size means they still aren't through health workers, says county public health director Barbara Ferrer.

BARBARA FERRER: Our estimate is that there are between 700- and 800,000 health care workers that qualify to be vaccinated in phase 1A. It's a big number.

FORTIER: So for now, only health workers will be inoculated at Dodger Stadium. It joins other super vaccination sites like Disneyland in Orange County, where Californians used to go for entertainment and now they go for treatment.

For NPR News, I'm Jackie Fortier in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.