WASHINGTON — The federal government will open its first Covid-19 vaccination sites in California as part of the Biden administration’s push to ramp up the number of Americans receiving shots and reach those most at risk of developing severe illness.
One center will be housed in the Oakland Coliseum where the Oakland Athletics baseball team plays and the other will be on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles. Both will be adjacent to communities hardest hit by the pandemic, said Jeffrey Zients, President Joe Biden’s lead Covid-19 coordinator. The facilities will be staffed mostly with federal employees.
“These sites in California are just the beginning,” Zients said. “We are working with, in partnership, in states across the country to stand up new sites and will have more to say on that in the coming weeks.”
The effort is a change in course from the Trump administration, which left the administration of the vaccine largely to the states and focused instead on the logistics of shipping the vaccine. But after states became overwhelmed in the early weeks trying to manage the demand from people seeking the vaccine, Biden’s Covid-19 advisers urged him to take a more hands-on approach.
The federal vaccination centers — which will be based in stadiums, school gyms and parking lots — will be staffed by workers from FEMA, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The Defense Department will also play a role in managing these community vaccination sites.
The Biden administration has been increasing the number of federal employees working on the effort and currently has directed 600 FEMA employees to work on the vaccination program, including 350 working at vaccination sites, in addition to thousands of National Guard members in 39 states.
Several states have already begun using stadiums as mass vaccination centers.
FEMA has provided $1.7 billion to 27 states to help pay for transportation, storage, and supplies for their vaccination programs, Zients said.
The administration announced yesterday it would begin shipping vaccines directly to retail pharmacies and has increased shipments to states by 20 percent over the past two weeks.
Administration officials said they are in a race against time to increase the number of Americans vaccinated as more contagious strains of the virus continue to spread across the country even as deaths and hospitalizations begin to trend downward. In the meantime, they urged the public to double down on mask-wearing and avoid large gatherings, like Super Bowl parties.
“We have to be concerned about the mutants,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s top infectious disease adviser. “Viruses will not mutate well If you don’t give them the opportunity to replicate in a very large way. Namely, if you have an open playing field for the virus, they will replicate and they will mutate.”