Vaccinations in California could start Monday, but it will not slow the COVID-19 crisis that is putting hospitals at risk

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California will begin supplying the COVID-19 vaccine as early as Monday, but officials have warned that the initial shipment of around 327,000 doses will not change rapidly deteriorating conditions in state hospitals as the virus spirals out of control.
Medical staff were to receive the first doses of the vaccine at a limited number of hospitals in California, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, UCLA Health and Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Officials expect to receive more doses of the vaccine later this month and again in early January.

It is a welcome ray of hope. But it should be months before the vaccine reaches the general population in large numbers. And that leaves health officials grappling with an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 that has swept through California.

Officials on Saturday announced another disturbing milestone as the Central Valley reached 0% of remaining emergency room capacity. The remaining capacity of Southern California’s intensive care units has fallen to just 5.3%, with officials expecting many days of increased cases among those infected during Thanksgiving.

“While the vaccines are imminent, they won’t be there in time to avoid compromising the care of the critically ill in our hospitals,” said Barbara Ferrer, LA County director of health.

A doctor at a Los Angeles County public hospital said healthcare workers were asked to fill out questionnaires to determine their priority for a vaccine. The questions focus on how well workers interact with COVID-19 patients and their regularity, as well as their own health conditions and age.

The doctor, who requested anonymity due to lack of permission to speak to the media, expressed hope that the vaccine could stem the “relentless onslaught” of COVID-19 patients flooding hospitals recently.

“Everyone I have spoken to is waiting in suspense for their vaccine, then will breathe a deep sigh of relief,” the doctor said on Saturday, noting that the vaccine is expected to be available to employees Thursday or Friday.

Trucks carrying the first shipments of vaccine to the United States will begin rolling out Sunday morning, delivering several million doses to 150 sites in many states on Monday, officials said on Saturday.

The vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech will reach 450 additional sites on Tuesday and Wednesday, Army General Gustav F. Perna of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program, said during ‘a press conference in Washington.

The massive distribution operation, which Perna described in military logistics terms, will involve UPS and FedEx, working with California and other local governments across the country. He compared Saturday’s announcement to D-Day, the turning point of World War II.

“I have absolutely 100% confidence that we will safely distribute this precious commodity, this vaccine, needed to defeat the enemy COVID,” Perna said.

Initial shipments of around 3 million shots are expected to leave Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Mich., Manufacturing plant by truck and then be airlifted to hubs across the country. A similar amount should be kept in reserve for patients’ second dose.

California obtained emergency use clearance from the FDA on Friday night after “meeting rigorous FDA scientific standards for safety, efficacy and build quality,” said FDA commissioner , Dr. Stephen Hahn. The vaccine had already been approved in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada.

“FDA clearance for emergency use of the first COVID-19 vaccine is an important step in the fight against this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world,” Hahn said in a statement released on Friday.

Dr Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the vaccine “promises to change the course of this pandemic in the United States.”

A task force of scientists and experts representing the states of California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada is also reviewing the vaccine separately from the FDA process and will make a recommendation by Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. .

Yet a very small number of people will receive the vaccine this year, with the initial shipment to California “likely to end up largely in hospitals,” said Dr. Robert Schechter, a physician in the California Department of Public Health, to the participants. in a vaccine advisory committee Wednesday.

Perna said local health officials would determine who would receive the first vaccines, but medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities were generally given priority.

The State Department of Public Health selected at least seven hospitals to receive the first batch of vaccine based on their storage capacity, the relatively high risk to their healthcare populations, and their ability to distribute the vaccine in the community once it becomes widely available, UC Davis Health said in a press release.

In northern California, designated hospitals include UC San Francisco Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center in Redding, and UC Davis Health in Sacramento.

Hospitals also need to be able to store vaccines at the extremely low temperatures they need: minus 70 degrees Celsius (about minus 95 degrees Fahrenheit).

Officials at hospitals supposed to receive the vaccines said they were working to distribute the first doses fairly and in accordance with guidelines issued by federal and local health authorities.

UC Davis Health formed a task force that spent several weeks developing a tiered approach to vaccinate employees based on the risk of infection associated with the type of work they do, the health system said. .

In the emergency department, high-level job classifications include duty workers, doctors, nurses, first responders and clerks, officials said. The health system says it is ready to vaccinate up to 400 employees every day.

Vaccine shipments cannot arrive early enough in California. The state marked another milestone on Friday, totaling 1.5 million cumulative coronavirus cases. The state adds an average of nearly 29,000 new infections a day, a staggering daily toll. More than 20,700 Californians have died, a state toll eclipsed only by Texas and New York.

The United States hit another daily record on Friday, registering 3,309 COVID-19-related deaths. That topped the previous day’s high of 3,124 deaths reported Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Friday also saw a new record for confirmed daily infections, with more than 231,000. That’s almost 4,000 above the previous record set on December 4.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in California hit new highs every day this week, rising to 12,444 patients on Friday, data showed on Saturday. ICU capacity continued to decline in many areas, with Southern California reporting 5.3% capacity on Saturday, down from 6.2% a day earlier, with the San Joaquin Valley area reporting a capacity of zero, against 4.5% a day earlier.

In Los Angeles County, which has been particularly hard hit, the number of COVID-19 patients has surpassed 4,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic, according to data released on Saturday.

County public health officials on Saturday reported 11,476 new cases of the virus and 70 associated deaths and ticked off a list of disappointing statistics showing how quickly transmission has increased. Over the past month, the five-day average of new cases increased 370%, deaths increased 416%, the rate of returning positive tests increased 141% and hospitalizations increased 303%, the report said. officials.

LA County will receive its first shipment of nearly 83,000 COVID-19 vaccines as of Monday, according to County Supervisor Janice Hahn. They will first be sent to nine facilities with ultra-cold freezers, then distributed to 83 acute care hospitals and administered to healthcare workers based on their level of risk, the county public health department said.

Vaccines will also be sent directly to qualified nursing facilities for donation to staff and residents; other types of long-term care facilities will be able to receive vaccines from CVS and Walgreens through a federal partnership program, LA County health officials said.

The county expects to receive two more batches of the vaccine in December, and then weekly batches in the new year, according to the Department of Public Health.

County health officials said they were planning a three-phase deployment. After the first phase consisting of healthcare workers and residents and facility staff, the second will focus on essential workers and the third on high-risk groups, including the elderly and those with chronic diseases. Officials were still working on the details of exactly how people would be prioritized within large groups.

Hahn said she hoped essential workers would start getting vaccinated in early February.

“This is great news – but we’re not out of the woods yet,” Hahn said in a statement on Saturday.

A second vaccine, created by pharmaceutical company Moderna in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, could receive emergency use authorization next week, said Schechter of the California Department of Public Health. In total, California expects at least 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of December and about 6 million by the end of January, he said.

Times editors Rong-Gong Lin II, Maya Lau, Laura Nelson, and Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report.



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