Long Beach may receive COVID-19 vaccine doses as soon as mid-December

As the country anxiously awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, the City of Long Beach is prepping for the eventual storage, transportation and distribution to thousands of residents.

Three major drug companies—AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna—have now reported late-stage results for a potential vaccine, with doses likely available as early as next month.

Long Beach officials in a statement this week said the city expects to receive an initial allotment from the government as early as mid-December.

City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said the city still doesn’t know exactly how many doses it would receive and other details, but initial doses will likely go to high-risk healthcare workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns,” she said. “We’re waiting on guidelines.”

Storage might be a challenge as the vaccines must be kept in very cold temperatures.

For example, Pfizer, which recently finished its third phase study and is shown to be 95% effective, must be stored at temperatures of minus 94 degrees.

Long Beach spokesperson Jennifer Rice Epstein said the city has procured equipment that will allow it to store, transport and distribute doses at extremely low temperatures. The city is also equipped to handle frozen and refrigerated vaccines, she added. 

“We are working closely with our partners in the city so we are prepared to store, manage and distribute COVID vaccine effectively and equitably once we receive guidance from (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” she said in a statement.

She said Long Beach, with the benefit of having its own health department, is “well-equipped for mass dispensing,” after gaining experience from dispensing the H1N1 “swine flu” vaccine after the virus hit in 2009.

Long Beach could eventually distribute the vaccine widely from its flu shot centers and COVID-19 testing sites.

Rice Epstein said the Health Department has been “planning and training for an emergency of this kind for years.”

“Not only has our extensive training prepared us well for mass dispensing, but because the city has its own health department, we know Long Beach,” she said. “Through our partnerships with Long Beach’s hospitals, schools and universities, our understanding of the community and our partnerships with community groups in Long Beach, City of Pasadena, and County of Los Angeles, we are ready to dispense the vaccine in a safe and equitable way. ”

Dr. Mauricio Heilbron, a local trauma surgeon at St. Mary Medical Center, is cautiously optimistic that the vaccine will be effective, but he noted that due to the urgency, the studies of its efficacy have not yet been published or peer reviewed.

Regardless of effectiveness, Heilbron said, the vaccine appears to be safe as it has been tested on tens of thousands of people. He said he’s more concerned that a perceived “cure” will give people a false sense of security to engage in risky behavior.

“I think we have to approach these vaccines with a bit more caution, because once we let this out, it’s going to let people relax,” he said. “What I’m really afraid of is the public’s trust in us is so broken that they won’t listen to all the details. They’ll get the vaccine and then go out and have a party.”

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].