County health officials: Public access to vaccine remains months away

Pharmacist Courtney Mattley displays a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before administering the first dose at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia on Thursday, 121720. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Los Angeles County Public Health officials said Thursday that while the COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Los Angeles County, they can’t confirm definitively the length of protection the vaccine offers, or when the vaccine will be available to the general public. 

During a live question-and-answer session held online, Public Health officials told residents that two vaccines will be available soon for health care workers and possibly essential workers, but that the public won’t generally have access until the spring or summer of 2021. 

“There’s a variety of different factors that are considered in determining who gets the vaccine and how it’s distributed among different future hospitals for this very first round,” said Dr. Seira Kurian, director of medical affairs for the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. “As I mentioned, equity is a consideration and it’s sort of in the forefront of the decisions that we make.”

Dr. Deborah Protrow-Stith moderates the Thursday night Vaccine Town Hall.

Kurian added that a major factor playing into the calculus for who would get a vaccine and when would be the county analyzing those communities that are most impacted, and especially those hospitals and facilities that are serving vulnerable populations. 

The current phase with its 82,875 doses is part of phase “1A,” which will also include residents and health care workers at long-term care facilities, which will be followed by phase “1B,” which will be for essential workers, followed by phase “`1C,” which is expected to be focused on high-risk groups, Kurian said. 

“Our best estimates at this time are that the general public vaccinations will be available in the spring or early summer,” said Kurian.

When discussing the types of vaccinations that will be available, Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the L.A. County Public Health Department, said the Pfizer vaccine was currently being administered, and a second, from Moderna, “will be approved shortly.” 

Both vaccines have been found to be effective in 95% of test groups, and Pfizer’s has so far proven to be effective across all age groups, racial and ethnic groups, and among both men and  women, Simon said. 

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are said to have caused mild to moderate symptoms, including soreness at the site of injection, fatigue, muscle aches and fever, which are all symptoms associated with many other vaccines.

Dr. Muntu Davis discusses phase 1 of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout during the Thursday night Vaccine Town Hall.

Pfizer’s vaccine requires three weeks between two separate doses, while Moderna’s requires four weeks between two separate doses, said Simon.

Dr. Muntu Davis, the Los Angeles County health officer, stated during his section to speak that in order for the virus to “begin to go away” the U.S. population needs to reach between 75-85% vaccination or immunity. 

“We can do this, we can eradicate this virus,” said Davis. “We did this with smallpox, we achieved this with measles (and) we can do this with COVID with the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Davis said Los Angeles County may be a few months out from those days of “herd immunity,” and currently the county is setting new records every day in terms of positive diagnoses and deaths related to COVID-19. He added by either Friday or over the weekend, Los Angeles County will have 5,000 people in ICU beds with COVID-19, occupying  more than half of the ICU beds in L.A. County.

“I want to emphasize that it will take months for our COVID vaccine to be widely available to the general public and in the meantime, again, we must all do our part to remain diligent in taking the steps to stay safe and protect our families and our neighbors.”

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