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Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times
Orange County is preparing for its first allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine.
OC Health Care Agency (OCHCA) officials were notified by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on Dec. 1 that the agency should prepare to receive 25,350 doses of Pfizer-manufactured COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 15.
“COVID-19 isn’t over yet,” said Michelle Steel, chairwoman of the OC Board of Supervisors. “But this first batch of vaccines will help stop the spread of the virus.”
The announcement comes as Orange County and the surrounding Southern California region are under a three-week stay-at-home order as the area’s available intensive care unit capacity dropped below the state’s 15% threshold this past Friday, Dec. 4.
The new stay-at-home order, triggered by the dip in the region’s ICU-bed availability, decreasing from 20.6% to 13.1% from Thursday to Friday, went into effect on Monday, Dec. 7, prompting a wave of renewed restrictions on multiple economic sectors and businesses.
The OCHCA says it will distribute this initial supply to Orange County hospitals for prioritization of their high-risk health care workers as part of “Phase 1a” of a multi-phased plan developed through the CDPH Community Vaccine Advisory Committee.
Per state guidelines, Phase 1a calls for the vaccine to be offered to people at direct risk of exposure in their non-clinical roles, such as, but not limited to, environmental services, patient transport or interpretation, as well as residents of skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and similar long-term care settings for older or medically vulnerable individuals.
Local hospitals, however, will need to determine which segments of their employee population are at higher risk for contracting the virus due to this limited quantity. This may include those who work in emergency departments or intensive care units. The HCA will provide the first shipment to hospitals that are prepared and ready to administer the vaccines.
According to state health officials, the vaccines will not cause COVID-19, nor will it cause recipients to test positive on viral tests used to see if there is a current infection. If the recipient’s body develops an immune response, which is the goal of the vaccine, there is a possibility they will test positive on some antibody tests.
Andrew Do, the county board’s vice chairman, says that further distribution will be prioritized by risk, role and equity.
“Health care professionals, being on the frontline caring for the sick, will receive the first round of the vaccines,” Do said. “We will also work with local hospitals and clinics to distribute the vaccines to the general public.”
According to a county news release, OCHCA is currently assessing readiness, which includes enrollment in the state of California’s COVIDReadi system and ability to safely store, transport and administer the vaccines in compliance with the vaccine manufacturer’s recommendations. Hospitals must attest that they have a plan to distribute all vaccine doses within five days of receipt.
This first shipment is one of several in a planned allotment of Phase 1a doses from the CDPH if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves an Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccines. The additional doses, which are expected to be a combination of Pfizer and Moderna-manufactured vaccines, are slated to arrive by the end of the month if this approval is granted.
As more doses of vaccine become available, a greater portion of the Phase 1a population can anticipate vaccine availability in late December into early 2021. This includes residents of long-term care facilities, such as skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, who will coordinate obtaining doses through national retail pharmacies being supplied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials have said the COVID-19 vaccine is likely to become more readily accessible to the general public in the spring of 2021.
“Our goal is to get the vaccine distributed to local hospitals, in accordance with state directives, as quickly as possible,” said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett. “Distribution of the vaccine is going to require significant coordination with our hospitals in terms of logistics, and I am pleased to see that efforts are already underway to ensure a smooth and secure distribution process.”
Bartlett represents the fifth district of Orange County, which includes the cities of Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
In the meantime, the stay-at-home order is expected to last through at least Dec. 27, affecting the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays. After those three weeks, the region will be reviewed weekly for its projected four-week ICU capacity, and if that capacity is projected to at least 15%, the order will be lifted.
Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.