Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials discussed Thursday how COVID-19 vaccinations are set to be released across the county, as the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine received a vote of confidence from a U.S. government advisory panel.
The advisers are set to report to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which can then grant an emergency-use authorization for the vaccine later this week, with the Moderna vaccine then expected to undergo the same process in the coming weeks.
“Both vaccines were found to be approximately 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 infection at least over the two months following vaccination,” Paul Simon, chief science officer at county Public Health, said Thursday. “Very importantly the vaccines appear to be even more effective in preventing severe disease, although the number of vaccinated persons with infection was relatively low.”
On Tuesday, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced that, if approved, L.A. County could receive its first batch of approximately 83,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses as early as next week.
The initial vaccine supplies are expected to be limited, so a phased roll-out is planned, with initial priority expected to be given to health care workers, followed by residents of long-term care facilities.
The initial allocation will be sent to nine sites across the county that have the required ultra-cold freezers for the Pfizer vaccine, which will then be distributed to 83 acute-care hospitals across the county and administered to health care workers, prioritized based on risk, per Public Health officials. Long-term care facility residents and staff are then expected to receive vaccines from CVS and Walgreens pharmacies through a federal partnership program.
Following this distribution, Phase 1b vaccination efforts are set to focus on essential workers, while Phase 1c is set to focus on high-risk groups, including seniors and those with chronic health conditions.
Public Health officials expect to receive two additional batches of vaccine doses in December, followed by weekly allocations thereafter in the new year.
Even so, it will be several months before the vaccine is widely available, per officials.
“We have established a COVID-19 vaccine work group comprised of approximately 100 individuals representing more than 60 organizations that meets biweekly,” Simon added. “The work group has established three committees that meet weekly, one focused on ensuring equitable distribution of the vaccine, another on establishing effective communications and the third on aligning resources.”
Locally, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital has been approved to administer the vaccines, according to Dr. Larry Kidd, the hospital’s senior vice president and chief clinical officer.
Dr. Bud Lawrence, medical director of Henry Mayo’s Emergency Department, discussed the vaccine during Henry Mayo’s Facebook Live on Tuesday, explaining how these vaccines were able to be created so quickly.
“The reason why they were able to be made so quickly is that once we got the genetic code to this SARS-CoV-2 virus, we were able to immediately find out where this mRNA (messenger RNA) is in that code, pull it out and start right away making those vaccines within a few days,” he said, adding that the safety data for both vaccines has been “very good,” with 90% or more effectiveness. “When we look at public health and how we’re going to manage this COVID-19 outbreak and this crisis, I think the vaccine at this point is going to be probably our best bet to ensure that we’re able to get this under control. … I think the vaccine is a great choice for most everyone, and I almost would say a mandatory choice for someone who’s high risk.”
Trials for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines show that both appear very safe, with no severe adverse reactions identified, according to Simon. However, approximately 10% to 15% of people may have some temporary side effects such as fever, fatigue, headache and muscle pain, per Public Health officials.
For more information on L.A.County’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, visit publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/ncorona2019/vaccine.