LOS ANGELES (CNS) - More health care workers across Los Angeles County received initial doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine today, part of an ambitious effort to ensure the health and availability of doctors, nurses and other front-line workers amid surging virus cases and hospitalizations.
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services began operating vaccination clinics at three of the four medical centers it operates -- County- USC, Olive-View UCLA and Harbor-UCLA.
“Already this morning, the vaccinations clinics are going very, very well,'' said county DHS Director Dr. Christina Ghaly. “They're busy and we've been able to vaccinate a large amount of staff within DHS, and that will continue throughout December. We can't respond to the increasing threat of this virus if our workforce doesn't stay healthy. So the fact that our front-line workforce can be there getting the vaccination and is ready to get the vaccination means so much for their ability to stay safe so they can put their skills to use in the care of patients.''
The county hopes to vaccinate 6,000 workers at the hospitals by Christmas, and 10,000 total by the end of the year. The 10,000 vaccinations would represent about one-third of the DHS hospital workforce, with priority going to the most at-risk workers on the front lines of treating COVID patients.
Dr. Paul Giboney, associate chief medical officer of the county DHS, expressed confidence in meeting the vaccination goal, despite concerns that anticipated deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine may be more limited than initially anticipated. He said “there will be plenty'' of vaccine to inoculate 10,000 workers by the end of the year, noting that each vial of the vaccine is actually yielding six doses, rather than the anticipated five.
“Our workforce is facing overwhelming demand,'' Giboney said. “Today, we can face that need with renewed energy in our fight for the health of our patients and our community.''
Giboney said an estimated 1,500 workers were expected to be vaccinated on Friday.
The city of Long Beach, which operates its own health department separate from the county, also began vaccinating health care workers today, with a registered nurse at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center among the first to receive a dose.
Long Beach officials said the city received up to 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and it anticipates receiving 11,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine that is awaiting final federal approval.
“We are optimistic about the positive impact that vaccines will have eventually, but it's paramount that right now we continue to wear face coverings, practice physical distancing, wash hands frequently and refrain from gathering to reduce spread of the virus until we get enough people vaccinated to see the full effect,'' Long Beach City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said in a statement.
Los Angeles County received an initial shipment of nearly 83,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, with the vaccines shipped to nine ultra-cold storage facilities, then on to 83 acute-care hospitals for distribution to health care workers, who are atop the priority list for being vaccinated.
Statewide, 327,600 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were allotted to California, and Gov. Gavin Newsom said another 393,900 doses from Pfizer were expected next week, although that allotment is now anticipated to be smaller than originally planned.
Pending federal approval of Moderna's vaccination, the state is expected to receive 672,600 doses of that vaccine by the end of the month. The state hopes to receive as many as 2.16 million total doses by the end of the year, Newsom said.
The Moderna vaccine received was endorsed Thursday by a Food and Drug Administration panel of experts, a major hurdle in earning ultimate FDA approval for use.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week that the county hopes to receive its second allotment -- roughly 250,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, pending final FDA approval -- early next week. But she said Wednesday the timing and size of the county's next allotment of vaccine had not yet been finalized, likely due to uncertainty with the federal approval process.
Much of the second dose allotment will be distributed directly skilled nursing facilities, allowing them to administer it right away instead of waiting for a federal distribution agreement with CVS and Walgreens to begin on roughly Dec. 28.
Long-term care facilities will still receive the vaccine through CVS and Walgreens.
The Moderna vaccine does not require the same ultra-cold storage as the Pfizer vaccine.
County officials said earlier they anticipate receiving another 150,000 doses of vaccine by the end of December, followed by weekly allotments of 250,000 beginning in January. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines both require two doses, separated by about three weeks for the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks for the Moderna medication. With the county planning to vaccinate 6 million people in six months, that equates to 12 million doses of vaccine.
After the distribution of vaccines to health care workers, skilled nursing facilities and long-term care staff and residents is completed, followed by “essential workers,'' priority will then move to people at highest risk of severe illness from the virus, such as seniors or those with underlying health conditions.
Distribution to the general public will follow, but the timeline on when that will occur remains cloudy.
Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health, said Thursday that while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have both been shown to be effective in preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19, it's still unsure “whether the vaccines prevent asymptomatic infection and further spread of the virus.'' He said it's also unclear exactly how long the vaccines offer protection from the virus.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the county will be working in the coming months to reassure residents about the safety of the vaccines so more people will get vaccinated.
“I want to reassure our residents that countless medical experts have looked at the vaccine through the microscope from the first days of development through the trials, where thousands of people received the vaccine around the world,'' she said. “The vaccine is safe, the vaccine is effective and it is a critical tool to defeat the virus.''
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