Planes with precious cargo — the first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for the coronavirus — are expected to begin touching down in California on Sunday and continue during the coming days, according to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
“We’re expecting distribution as early as tomorrow,” Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Saturday.
Bay Area county health departments are gearing up to get the doses to the first cohort of frontline health care and nursing home workers as soon as they receive them and the state gives the vaccine a thumbs-up. The Food and Drug Administration cleared Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use Friday. California, which has its own approval process in conjunction with other Western states, was expected to follow suit almost immediately.
“It’s moving incredibly quickly,” said Dr. Matt Willis, public health officer for Marin County, which was allocated 1,950 initial doses and expects to receive them early this week.
The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup is meeting TODAY to review & assess data / safety information.
We’re expecting distribution as early as tomorrow.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) December 12, 2020
Vials are stored on trays inside pizza box style containers, each holding 975 doses. Packed in high-tech coolers with dry ice and GPS sensors, the vaccine will be trucked from airports directly to health care facilities equipped with subzero freezers that can store the doses at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit. Those facilities will both administer vaccinations themselves and handle distribution to other vaccination sites.
“Our current understanding is that pending all the things that could happen, they could begin shipping vaccines directly to health care facilities as early as tomorrow night,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Services, said Saturday. “Within the first handful of days, the majority of counties will receive it.”
The ability to immunize people is a watershed moment in a pandemic that has upended daily life, and killed over 20,000 people in California and almost 300,000 nationwide. Still it will take months for vaccines to be broadly available, so they will not quell the continuing winter surge.
California expects to receive 327,000 initial doses of the vaccine manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in Kalamazoo, Mich. A second batch of 327,000 will be delivered within three weeks, because the vaccine requires two injections, 21 days apart. The state has requested close to a million doses this month, with about two-thirds of them being the Moderna vaccine expected to win FDA authorization this week. That vaccine does not require subzero storage.
Alameda County said it expects to receive 13,650 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday or Friday, and will allocate initial doses to acute care hospital workers. Residential care facilities for the elderly should receive the vaccine through Walgreens and CVS later this month.
In Marin, “we’re scheduled to (receive the Pfizer doses) on Monday,” Willis said. “We are eager and ready to distribute it immediately to our hospitals and they will be able to start vaccinating as early as Tuesday.”
Throughout the state, early doses are being allocated to those most at risk of exposure through their work, such as medical professionals, first responders and staff at long-term care facilities, and those most vulnerable to severe complications such as residents of skilled nursing facilities.
Marin’s initial allocation will be split between frontline health care workers and staffers at skilled nursing facilities. Teams will fan out to the county’s 13 skilled nursing facilities to administer the vaccines.
“We’ve been experiencing a lot of outbreaks in our skilled nursing facilities, with 85% of our deaths in the county among residents of long-term care facilities, almost all from staff members who were infected in the community,” Willis said.
The county did an informal poll among health care workers and skilled nursing staff, and found that 84% want to receive the doses. Willis, who contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, said he expects to be vaccinated in accordance with Centers for Disease Control recommendations that people who have been infected should still receive the injections.
Several private donors — BioMarin Phamaceutical, the Buck Institute and Dominican University — helped Marin buy ultracold storage freezers, which are now ready at its emergency operations center in San Rafael.
“Administering of the vaccines will begin right away” in San Mateo County, said Dr. Anand Chabra, section chief for the county’s COVID-19 Mass Vaccination, in an email. He expects to receive an initial 5,850 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week.
Each of the county’s six major hospitals will receive a box from the first shipment to vaccinate health care workers. Two of those hospitals have skilled nursing facilities, whose staff could also receive doses.
The county expects to receive another 30,000 to 35,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of the month, Chabra said.
“We estimate 24,000 of the total 38,000 health care workers (this includes direct clinical care, those who handle cleaning, etc.) in San Mateo County will receive their first (of two) doses of vaccine from these initial shipments,” Chabra said. “Future shipments are already in process and will provide the second doses for these critical groups.”
Walgreens and CVS pharmacies will work directly with long-term care facilities to administer vaccines with support from the county as needed, he said. The county health department will vaccinate paramedics and EMTs.
“San Mateo County Health has sufficient ultracold storage to manage the first shipment of vaccine and expects to receive additional ultracold freezers on Tuesday,” Chabra said. “We have portable ultracold freezers on hand for transportation. The supply and distribution of the vaccine will be managed with security measures in place.”
Napa County expects to receive 1,950 doses on Monday or Tuesday and will allocate them to hospitals and nursing homes that have the capability to vaccinate their own staffs, said spokeswoman Janet Upton.
One local hospital already has ultracold storage, and the county got a Department of Homeland Security $10,000 grant to buy another freezer that it expects in the coming weeks.
UCSF expects to receive at least one box of 975 doses on Monday or Tuesday and more boxes through the week, spokeswoman Kristen Bole said in an email.
“Provided we receive the shipment as expected and also that (California Department of Public Health) approves them in California, we will begin rolling out these vaccines to the people at greatest risk of exposure on Wednesday,” she said.
For the general public, it will still be months before vaccines are broadly available. That will give the state and counties more time to set up logistics and infrastructure to store and distribute the vaccines.
“Once we’re trying to get 40 million people vaccinated, additional complexities will present themselves,” said Ferguson from the Office of Emergency Services. “The state is stocking on trucks, refrigerated facilities, dry ice. There will be a central hub.”
In Napa, as the vaccines become more widely available “we anticipate having COVID vaccination clinics just like we have flu clinics,” Upton said. “Drive-in clinics with a walk-up lane.”