Riverside County will receive over 25,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine over the next two weeks, and front line health care workers will be first to receive them, with shots available to the general public likely after the start of the New Year, officials told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
“A handful of hospitals will receive vaccines directly, but the majority will come to county Department of Public Health and then be distributed,” the agency’s director, Kim Saruwatari, said. “High-risk employees will be covered first.”
“After the general and acute care hospitals are served, skilled nursing facilities will be next, then first responders — emergency medical technicians and paramedics,” she said.
Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley will receive the largest direct dispensation, 1,900 vaccines, followed by Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs and Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, each of which is slated to receive 1,140 doses, according to the Riverside University Health System.
The first shipment of 14,625 vaccines are due to arrive Friday, and the next shipment of between 10,000 and 11,000 vials will be in the county’s possession between Dec. 21 and Dec. 24, according to Saruwatari.
“We have distribution plans in place and will get the vaccines out as fast as we can,” she told the board, adding that hospitals are expected to carry out their vaccination programs within a five-day period.
She said area pharmacies will be partnering with the county to provide shots. The exact timeline for offering vaccinations to the general public was not detailed.
While the Pfizer vaccine is going nationwide following U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, the other SARS-Cov-2 vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, is not yet available, Saruwatari said, and she did not have a prediction for when the county might receive doses.
She noted that, in conjunction with the shipment of vaccines, the California Department of Public Health has adopted revised U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines concerning quarantine periods.
Instead of the previously desired 14-day isolation recommended for anyone who has been exposed to a known coronavirus carrier, the state is now recommending 10 days, and only seven days for health care workers needed back on the job.
“There were hardships for people and employers,” Saruwatari said, referencing the CDPH’s guidelines concerning the quarantine reduction. “The (10-day) period still allows us to capture cases that might convert (to COVID-19).”
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries used the revision to underscore how state health officials can change their minds about policy, seemingly on a whim.
“They tend to skip science and go to an emotion-based approach, and credibility becomes an issue,” he said. “There is no science that supports the closure of outdoor dining at restaurants but continued shopping at Home Depot, Target or pick a store. A businessman or woman can go bankrupt, not to save lives, but because the state wants you to.”
Supervisor Karen Spiegel said the public has been so inundated with changes, mandates and recommendations amid the pandemic that “people have fatigue.”
“They want to live their lives,” the supervisor said. “We’ve closed outdoor venues and pushed everybody home, behind closed doors, and that’s where the virus can spread much quicker.”
Both Spiegel and Jeffries questioned Saruwatari about countywide suicide rates attributable to the stay-at-home orders, unemployment and financial hardships, and she replied that while the overall suicide rate is down by double digit percentage points, the rate among 15 to 24 year-olds is up 19% so far this year.
However, most of those were linked to “accidental (drug) overdoses,” the public health director said, specifically mentioning the use of the opiod Fentanyl.