Los Angeles County reported 443 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 additional deaths Saturday, as health officials prepared to resume administration of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines after a pause due to concerns over rare instances of blood clots.
The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals dropped from 453 to 443, according to state figures, while the number of those patients in intensive care fell from 106 to 101.
Saturday's numbers brought the county's totals to 1,231,163 cases and 23,775 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
"This virus has caused havoc and pain in our county for too long. However, we now have a way forward to end the pandemic,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. "It is more important than ever for everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated to look over the information about vaccine safety and make an appointment as soon as you can. When you do, you'll be protecting yourselves and just as importantly, you'll be keeping yourselves healthy so you can continue to support those you love."
The department reminded the public that anyone 16 and older living or working in Los Angeles County can get vaccinated without booking an appointment at all county-run vaccination sites while supply lasts (teens 16 and 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian). Registration for COVID-19 appointments will be completed on-site.
That's a stark change from the early days of the vaccination effort, when appointments were in short supply.
Also, county officials said they will resume administration of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, with required warning materials about rare instances of blood clots.
The county's chief science officer, Dr. Paul Simon, told reporters in an online briefing Friday that the county has about 13,000 doses of the J&J vaccine on hand, while another 25,000 doses may be in the possession of other providers such as pharmacies and health centers that receive allocations of vaccine directly from the state or federal governments.
An advisory committee for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday that the J&J vaccine re-enter circulation, with a warning about potentially dangerous blood-clotting that occurred in 15 people -- out of about 7 million doses administered nationwide -- and prompted a hold on the vaccine earlier this month.
Within hours, the committee's recommendation was adopted by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, clearing the way for administration of the vaccine to resume.
"We're in the process of developing, or at least finalizing now, the educational materials that will be used for clients and also for providers so that we can move forward," Simon said.
Simon said Friday afternoon the county could resume offering the shots within one or two days. By early Friday evening, the county Department of Public Health announced that local vaccine providers could resume using the J&J shots, as long as they provide recipients with updated "fact sheets" providing information about the blood clots.
Simon continued to promote the safety of the vaccines, noting the low rate of the blood-clotting cases that forced a hold on the vaccine 10 days ago. He called it an "excellent vaccine."
"This side effect appears to be very, very rare, and we feel that there shouldn't be any reluctance on the part of people to be vaccinated with the J&J vaccine,'' he said.
There have been fears that news of the blood clots that forced a halt to the vaccine's use would contribute to public hesitancy in general about getting vaccinated. While it is difficult to measure that impact, Los Angeles County has seen a drop-off in people making appointments at some of its vaccination sites.
Simon noted that some county sites are still seeing their appointments fill quickly, but others are not, particularly in the Antelope Valley.
"We're watching this very closely," Simon said. "As we increase vaccination rates across the county population, we're increasingly going to have a reservoir of unvaccinated people who increasingly will be less interested in being vaccinated. And I think that group includes a broad spectrum of people -- some who may be hard no's. ... We don't think that's a large percentage, but there are those out there in that camp. And then there are others I would regard as softer no's, that are no's right now but they may be persuaded otherwise."
He said the slow-down in the pace of people making appointments is likely due to a variety of factors, including recent downward trends in COVID case numbers that may lead people to believe the shots aren't necessary, and potentially more people getting shots from other non-county sources, such as pharmacies.
"We've already vaccinated that portion of our population that desperately wanted to be vaccinated," he said. "Early on there was a rush. While others have been willing to wait a little bit but nonetheless felt vaccinations were really important, and so were willing to work hard to get appointments early on. And now we're sort of sliding into that remaining group of people that have some level maybe of either hesitation or reluctance or aren't so sure and want some more information.''
Through Monday, walk-up vaccinations will be available at:
-- Palmdale Oasis Recreation Center, 3850 E. Avenue S;
-- The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood;
-- Balboa Sports Complex, 17015 Burbank Blvd., Encino;
-- College of the Canyons, 25000 Valencia Blvd., Santa Clarita;
-- Cal State Northridge, 18343 Plummer St.;
-- Eugene Obregon Park, 4021 E. First St., Los Angeles;
-- Pomona Fairplex, 2370 E. Arrow Highway, gate 15; and
-- L.A. County Office of Education, 12830 Columbia Way, Downey.