Vaccinations against COVID-19 begin in SoCal; LA County hospital workers get first shots

With her co-workers cheering her on, an intensive-care unit nurse at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles today received one of the first doses in the state of a long-awaited vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

Helen Cordova sat patiently and joked with other medical personnel as she was given the Pfizer vaccine—administered with a shot in her right arm.

Thousands of doses of the vaccine arrived at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday night, marking the first step in a massive undertaking that will see the county attempt to vaccinate 6 million people in six months, beginning with critical health care workers.

LAX officials trumpeted the arrival of the vaccine on Twitter, posting photos of the FedEx jetliner carrying the vaccine, which received formal approval from federal authorities over the weekend for immediate use.

Gov. Gavin Newsom was among the elected officials on hand at the Kaiser Permanente facility in Hollywood to watch Cordova’s inoculation. Moments later, he tweeted, “History made.” A handful of other Kaiser workers were also vaccinated as cameras rolled.

Newsom touted the vaccine as a light at the end of the tunnel but cautioned the state is not out of harm’s way yet.

California is expected to receive 327,600 doses in the first allotment of the Pfizer vaccine. Pending federal approval of another vaccine created by Moderna, the state could receive another 672,600 doses within a week, and as many as 2.16 million doses by the end of the year.

But, Newsom noted, the 33,150 doses the state has received so far roughly equates to the number of new COVID-19 infections reported in the state in the past day.

It’s not clear when the first residents of Long Beach will be vaccinated. The city, which has its own health department to coordinate the local rollout, said the vaccines will be distributed directly to local hospitals to handle the first injections for critical health care workers.

Last week, the city said it expects to receive 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the month and another 11,600 doses of a Moderna vaccine in early January.

In the first phase of distribution, health care workers at hospitals including Long Beach Memorial and St. Mary Medical Center will be vaccinated, followed by residents and staff at acute care and nursing facilities, emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

Officials said the next step would include essential workers in public health, and those in dentist and doctors offices and specialty clinics.

Doses would then go to non-health care essential workers including teachers, grocery store and public transit workers, and those in public safety. Seniors over 65 who are at high risk would be next to receive the vaccine.

If all goes according to plan, the vaccines will likely be available to the general public by late spring, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said.

As for Los Angeles County, its initial allotment of vaccine is expected to be nearly 83,000 doses. The county’s vaccines will be dispersed to nine ultra-cold storage facilities. It needs to be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Those facilities will then distribute the doses to 83 acute-care hospitals, which will then oversee its administration to selected critical frontline workers.

Last week, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that the county hopes to receive its second allotment of a vaccine made by Moderna—about 250,000 doses, pending FDA approval—around Dec. 20-21. Much of that second dose allotment will be distributed directly skilled nursing facilities, allowing them to administer it right away instead of waiting for a federal distribution agreement with CVS and Walgreens to begin on roughly Dec. 28.

The county anticipates receiving another 150,000 doses of vaccine by the end of December, followed by weekly allotments of 250,000 beginning in January. Both vaccines require two doses, separated by about three weeks.

With the county planning to vaccinate 6 million people in six months, that equates to 12 million doses of vaccine.

Dr. Paul Simon, the county’s chief science officer, said that while the vaccine offers a glimmer of hope about a potential end to the pandemic and lockdown orders, the county is still in the midst of a dangerous surge in cases, so residents should expect to see restrictions continuing for months.

He said the administration of the vaccine—an effort to vaccinate about 6 million people in six months—will be a “massive undertaking the scale of which many would argue is unprecedented given the time emergency.”

The Associated Press and Long Beach Post Reporter Kelly Puente contributed to this report.

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