Jessica Cejnar / Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 @ 4:49 p.m. / COVID-19, Health

(Updated) Public Health Couriers Fetch Del Norte's First COVID-19 Vaccine Doses From Humboldt, Distributes Them To Hospital, Skilled Nursing Staff


Del Norte’s first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine trickled into the county and was distributed to the local hospital and skilled nursing facility Monday.

But because the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt and other Public Health Branch staff had to go to Humboldt County to fetch the first portion of the county’s allocation.

To make good use of the doses it has, the Public Health Branch delivered the vaccine to a few other key people “further down the list,” in addition to staff at Sutter Coast Hospital and Lantern Health Crescent City, Rehwaldt told the Wild Rivers Outpost.

“Not everybody is stepping up and ready to go,” he said. “We’re moving to use the vaccine as wisely as we can, covering ambulance service workers and a bunch of different people who have basic medical contacts that we need to keep going in the community.”

Pfizer’s vaccine is the first of two that the Food and Drug Administration authorized for distribution under an Emergency Use Authorization to combat COVID-19.

It and a second vaccine, from Moderna, are messenger RNA vaccines, which contain codes prompting a body’s cells to manufacture the spike protein from the novel coronavirus. This in turn prompts an immune response from the body, according to Dr. Timothy Brewer, of the University of California, Los Angeles’s David Geffin School of Medicine, who spoke at a virtual town hall meeting hosted by State Sen. Mike McGuire last week.

Both vaccines require two doses to be effective. With the Pfizer vaccine, the second dose comes three weeks after the first, Rehwaldt said. The two Moderna doses are given four weeks apart, he said.

Pfizer’s vaccine, which began being distributed in California last week, must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, according to NPR.

Once it’s taken out of cold storage, it can be refrigerated for five days, Rehwaldt said. It must be used within six hours once it’s taken out of refrigeration, he said.

The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors approved a $5,300 budget transfer to the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month for a freezer that can store the Pfizer vaccine, but it hasn’t arrived yet.

Currently, Rehwaldt said Public Health Branch staff are bringing back enough doses from Humboldt County to supply those that are to be vaccinated within a given week. That will go on until Del Norte County has the ability to store the Pfizer vaccine, which, Rehwaldt said, could be up to two weeks away.

Rehwaldt said he and Public Health staff are urging the hospital to use up all their doses.

“We also have people on standby in case anyone calls in sick,” he said.

Rehwaldt said he hopes the first doses of the Moderna vaccine comes into Del Norte County before the holidays. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine stores at a much lower temperature and can be kept refrigerated for up to 30 days instead of five days, Rehwaldt said.

“We brought it up with the state and federal officials about biasing the Moderna shipments toward more rural locations that have a hard time keeping ultra cold freezers or obtaining them in the first place,” he said. “It makes a lot more sense in a rural community.”

Del Norte County already has the ability to store the Moderna vaccine. Though the Public Health Branch is getting support from local businesses who have purchased more ultra cold freezers, Rehwaldt said it could be up to three weeks for them to be titrated and tested.

Del Norte’s public health officer, who released a letter to the community last week from the Rural Association of Northern California Health Officers urging residents to continue to wear a mask, social distance and stay home when sick, said residents should also consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine — especially those at high risk of serious illness.

“Those are people who can't afford to get the virus and try and recover from it,” Rehwaldt said. "The folks who need it the most, we really want them to consider getting the vaccine when the time comes.”

According to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub, 19 new cases were reported to the Public Health Branch on Monday. There are 150 active COVID-19 cases in Del Norte County with two hospitalizations. Since the pandemic began, there have been two deaths.

Meanwhile, there were 91 new cases reported among Pelican Bay State Prison’s inmate population in the last 14 days, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Population COVID-19 Tracking web page.

A total of 89 inmates have active disease currently, according to CDCR.


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