December 15, 2020
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health Vaccination
On Sunday, December 13, 2020, the first doses of the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine arrived in California and rollout of the vaccine began Monday, December 14.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use in people ages 16 years of age and older on late on Friday, December 11. This was followed by a conforming approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Saturday, December 12. Immediately following this approval the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup convened to assess and verify the FDA’s decision, joining the FDA in approving the vaccine for public use on Sunday, December 13.
Now that the vaccine is approved and on the ground in California, distribution efforts have begun.
While exact distribution methods vary across the state, medical workers are expected to get the first doses of the vaccine through a limited number of hospitals in California that include Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA Health in Los Angeles and Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. In Northern California, designated hospitals include UC San Francisco Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center in Redding and UC Davis Health in Sacramento. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) selected these seven hospitals to receive the first batch of vaccines in part because of their ability to store the vaccine properly—the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (about minus 95 degrees Fahrenheit). These hospitals were also selected because of the relatively high risk of their health care populations and their ability to distribute the vaccine in the community once it becomes widely available.
CDPH has further laid out vaccine distribution recommendations to ensure that the limited quantity of available vaccine supplies are distributed and administered equitably.
In an effort to further encourage vaccination and to provide reliable, scientific information, the State of California has launched the Vaccinate All 58 campaign and website that answers several frequently asked questions related to vaccine safety, distribution, and the many benefits of immunization. It is a consolidated location to access information on vaccination efforts.
Health care workers are prioritized in the first phase (Phase 1a) of distribution in California, with a specific delineation of priority based upon the risk of exposure and direct contact with COVID-19 positive patients. This level of specificity is required because the amount of vaccine California receives will not initially be sufficient to vaccinate all of those who are potentially eligible in each phase.
Covering all health care workers will take time. California has an estimated 2.4 million health care workers, and the state’s first shipment of vaccine from Pfizer will contain about 327,000 doses. Last Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California will soon increase its vaccine stock by 672,000 doses if the Moderna vaccine arrives as expected at the end of the month.
While a critical step in overcoming the pandemic, medical professionals have been quick to note that this initial rollout of vaccines will not immediately turn the course of the pandemic, and individuals still need to do their part to mitigate risk and spread of the virus.
The distribution process will continue to evolve based upon vaccine supply and national allocations. The California Medical Association (CMA) has actively engaged the state on its vaccine distribution plan and will continue to do so as California implements distribution, with the goal of a smooth allocation process that helps physicians continue to serve their communities safely, addresses equity, and reinforces the value and importance of vaccination.
To follow vaccine and distribution developments, see the state’s Vaccinate All 58 website. You can also find information on CMA’s new COVID-19 vaccine page.