For more than a week, occupational nurse Janet Li-Tall has been giving the H1N1 flu vaccine to a short list of fellow healthcare workers at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. But she cannot get the coveted vaccine for herself.
"I just have to wait with everyone else," said Li-Tall, 28.
She is among tens of thousands of local healthcare workers who find themselves in the same position as the general public: scrambling to get vaccinated.
Federal officials -- who list healthcare workers among those at greatest risk for H1N1 flu -- had promised California 6.2 million doses by now. But the state has received just 2.7 million doses due to manufacturing shortages, said Mike Sicilia, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health.
It is the same story nationwide, where only about 27 million of an expected 40 million doses are available.
Among the five highest-priority groups, Sicilia said California ranks healthcare workers third, after pregnant women and caregivers of children under 6 months old.
But officials here, unlike some in Ohio, New York and Wisconsin, have not set aside vaccines for healthcare workers. With so few doses in hand, doctors and nurses say they have been forced to wait in line or volunteer at public clinics to get vaccinated.
It comes down to simple math: L.A. County's three public hospitals ordered 110,000 vaccines but have received only about 18,000, according to Michael Wilson of the county's Health Services Department. They have vaccinated about 2,500 front-line staff, a fraction of the 24,000 workers who need it, he said.
So far, UCLA's two hospitals have received 1,000 doses for 10,000 staff and 35,000 patients expected in coming months. They set aside 550 for staff, but say that's hardly enough.
"There is anxiety. Many staff for sure would like to receive the vaccine," said Bill Dunne, the hospitals' director of emergency preparedness. "We as a hospital cannot make it come any faster. We're trying to manage the supply and make hard decisions."
Nurses unions have threatened to strike, arguing their members need more protection, particularly after a 51-year-old nurse in Sacramento died of H1N1 flu last summer.
"Why take that chance?" asked registered nurse Carole "C.C." Mazer, who works in a San Fernando Valley emergency room. "They should have offered it to us first."
Mazer, who said her emergency room has been inundated with H1N1 patients, has been trying for weeks to get the vaccine for herself and her 8-year-old son. She said the state's decision not to prioritize healthcare workers was "baffling."
"It's asking us to fight a war without protection," said Mazer, 48.