More large Los Angeles County hospitals started receiving shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, one day after initial doses were administered at a Kaiser Permanente facility in Hollywood.
Vaccinations are due to arrive Tuesday and Wednesday at the rest of the nine sites in the county equipped with the ultra-cold-storage facilities needed for the Pfizer medication. The vaccines will then be farmed out to 83 acute-care hospitals countywide for administration to health care workers, who are at the top of the priority list to receive the initial doses.
The vaccine, which received federal approval over the weekend for immediate use, is said to be 95% effective at preventing the virus.
Officials at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center announced early Tuesday that Pfizer’s much-anticipated vaccine had arrived at the hospital.
“The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine signifies a powerful and positive shift change for our community after months of fear, exhaustion and illness,” said Dr. Jeff Smith, chief operating officer of Cedars-Sinai. “Until today, the vaccine was the missing tool in our ever-growing toolkit of treatments and prevention methods against the virus.”
The medical center has the capacity to house more than 450,000 doses of the vaccine onsite in several ultra-cold freezers, and health care workers in Cedars-Sinai’s intensive care units and emergency department will be among the first to be offered vaccinations, which are voluntary, Smith said.
On Monday, Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles intensive-care unit nurse Helen Cordova received one of the first doses in the state. Her vaccination began a massive undertaking that will see the county attempt to inoculate 6 million people in six months.
Four other Kaiser workers were also vaccinated Monday as cameras rolled. About 17,000 doses of the medication were received at Kaiser.
“We front-line workers have been working around the clock over the past nine months, sacrificing so much of what we do and love to take care of our patients,” Kaiser emergency room nurse Kim Taylor said after receiving a dose. “We’ve been doing this while trying to take care of our own families and keep them safe. What I want you guys to know is that help is on the way. Today is just a first step. Soon more vaccines will be distributed to the front-line workers and our most vulnerable populations.”
She stressed the safety of the vaccine, and said that while the vaccine is offering hope, “the best way you can support us nurses right now is to continue wearing a mask, maintain physical distance, stay home for the holidays and wash your hands.
“We can’t win this fight alone,” she said. “We need your help to keep our numbers down and to slow this spread of COVID-19.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom and other elected officials gathered at Kaiser Permanente to watch the initial doses begin administered, and while they said the vaccine offers hope, there is a long way to go in the coronavirus fight.
“Don’t stop doing what’s right, and keeping that distance and wearing that mask, … making sure you wash your hands, and stay away from each other,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “It is not the time to let up.”
According to Newsom, 33,150 vaccine doses were received at four sites in California as of Monday — Los Angeles, San Diego and two sites in Northern California. Vaccines will arrive at 24 more sites statewide Tuesday, and five more on Wednesday.
But offering some context, Newsom noted that the 33,150 doses received as of Monday roughly equated to the number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed across the state in the past day.
The state is expected to receive 327,600 doses in the first allotment. Pending federal approval of a Moderna vaccination, the state could receive another 672,600 doses within a week, and as many as 2.16 million doses by the end of the year.
Los Angeles County’s initial allotment of Pfizer vaccine is expected to be 82,875 doses, a population-based percentage of the state allocation, according to county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
UCLA Health officials said they expected to get the vaccines by Tuesday, with shots administered on Wednesday.
“UCLA Health is implementing comprehensive and detailed plans to receive, store and administer COVID-19 vaccinations. We anticipate a limited number of doses arriving in the next day or two, with additional supplies to follow. We have been designated as a regional hub for distribution to other acute-care hospitals,” a UCLA Health statement said.
According to Newsom’s office, a Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup — a group of experts created by governors of California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington to independently verify the safety of any vaccine — concluded its review of the Pfizer vaccine Sunday and confirmed it is “safe and efficacious.”
The Pfizer vaccine was co-developed by German partner BioNTech. It needs to be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit.
Last week, Ferrer said the county hopes to receive its second allotment — roughly 250,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, pending FDA approval — around Dec. 20-21. Much of that 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, which received initial FDA approval Tuesday but is still awaiting a final OK, does not require the same ultra-cold storage as the Pfizer vaccine.
The county anticipates receiving another 150,000 doses of vaccine by the end of December, followed by weekly allotments of 250,000 beginning in January. Both vaccines require two doses, separated by about three weeks. 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, priority will then move to “essential workers” and then 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.
The county’s chief science officer insisted Thursday the process will be done equitably based on health priorities, not on power or prominence.
“Equity is a fundamental principle here,” Dr. Paul Simon said. “We want to make sure all people have access, and that those that are at greatest risk either because of higher risk of exposure, or greater risk of severe illness because of chronic health conditions or other factors have more immediate access to the vaccine.”