Jessica Cejnar / Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 @ 12:42 p.m. / COVID-19

Co-Chair Of State Vaccine Task Force Says California Has New COVID-19 Inoculation Scheduling System

COVID-19 inoculations haven’t come quickly enough, the co-chair of California’s vaccination task force admitted in a State Sen. Mike McGuire town hall meeting Tuesday.

Lori Nezhura, deputy director of planning, preparedness and prevention for the California Offices of Emergency Services, acknowledged the confusion around who is eligible to receive the vaccine currently. She pointed Northern California residents to a new scheduling system,

“Starting today, people will be able to leave their contact information so they can be notified when it’s their turn,” Nezhura said. “Right now we are piloting the system in Los Angeles and San Diego — people can use My Turn to determine eligibility and make an appointment. Our hope is the appointment-setting capability will be statewide by the beginning of February.”

Nezhura was joined by Dr. Timothy Brewer, of the University of California Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health and Geffin School of Medicine, and St. Joseph Health CEO Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk, an infectious disease specialist.

McGuire’s town hall, which had an audience of about 10,000 people, comes as a surge in COVID-19 cases in the Golden State has begun to slow. Between Christmas and mid January, California had an average of about 40,000 new cases a day, Brewer said. It’s now down to an average of about 25,000 new cases, he said, and on Tuesday, more than 17,000 new cases were reported.

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have also dropped from about an average of 22,000 people a day between mid December and January to about 18,000, Brewer said.

“The deaths are still running at about 400 a day,” he said. “But as long as case rates keep coming down, death rates will be coming down as well.”

Even though California suspended its regional stay at home order on Monday, Brewer said hospitals are still full of COVID-19 patients. The stay at home order would have been implemented in regions with an intensive care unit capacity below 15 percent. On Monday, the California Department of Public Health announced that since ICU capacity statewide had increased, it would suspend the stay at home order.

However, in Sonoma County, hospitals were averaging about 100 patients a day with only 15 ICU beds available, Brewer said. In Mendocino County, 18 patients are hospitalized on average and seven ICU beds are available, he said.

Brewer addressed COVID-19 variants that are becoming a concern, saying variants identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa are concerning because they appear to spread more easily.
Brewer also spoke to herd immunity.

“Herd immunity is the indirect protection in a population where enough people have either been vaccinated or had disease and developed immunity that the disease can no longer be spread easily so even those not vaccinated are protected,” he said. “The way we get there is through vaccinations. We do not get to herd immunity by letting the disease run through a population and having to suffer the cases and the death.”

In Del Norte County, no new community cases were reported to the Public Health Branch on Wednesday, though one new case occurred among the county’s incarcerated population, according to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub.

There are currently 18 active cases in Del Norte County. The county experienced its third death from COVID-19 last week, according to Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt.

Del Norte County Public Health Branch is also expected to finish vaccinating those in California’s Phase 1a category, which primarily include healthcare workers, and will start inoculating seniors and those who work in local schools likely next week, Rehwaldt said.
There are about 5,000 seniors in Del Norte County and the county is receiving an average of about 200 to 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine a week, he told supervisors on Tuesday.

Del Norte County’s ultra cold storage freezers are up and running and able to receive doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine directly, but it may take a couple of weeks for that to occur, according to Rehwaldt.

Later Tuesday, Nezhura said even though the state created a baseline standard for vaccine prioritization, counties and healthcare providers have been interpreting them differently. Under the state’s standards, Phase 1b includes anyone age 65 and older, emergency service workers, food and agriculture workers, teachers and school staff. But it’s up to providers to verify that information, she said. Some counties are also choosing to focus vaccines on those who are 75 and older and deciding between school staff and food and agricultural workers, according to Nezhura.

To ensure more efficient vaccine distribution, California will be going through a third-party administrator, which, Nezhura said, should “quicken things up.” CDPH also announced on Monday that providers who aren’t using their on-hand vaccine at a rate of 65 percent or greater could have their unused doses reallocated, she said.

“I want to assure folks we’re continuing to focus on equity,” Nezhura said. “Low income neighborhoods, communities of color and our higher age groups will have access to the vaccine. Providers will be compensated in part by how well they’re able to reach their underserved community. Our goal is to build a system that not only addresses the limitation in the supply of vaccine, but also increases availability by spring.”

Now that the bulk of their staff have been inoculated against COVID-19, hospitals can look to vaccinating patients, said Lusken-Hawk, who participated in the town hall meeting from Humboldt County. Though they’re looking at a broader distribution, hospitals and public health branches are finding that having to pick and choose who gets the vaccine isn’t working well within the state’s current infrastructure, she said.

That said, the public’s best option for getting the vaccine is either their primary care physician or their local public health department, according to Lusken-Hawk.

“Your doctor should be looking at a list of their patients and say, ‘OK, who meets the criteria?’” she said. “If you don’t have a provider and you  need a vaccine, you can sign up through local county health departments who will push out invitations for available vaccination clinics.”

In Del Norte County, though he urged residents to get in touch with their healthcare provider, Rehwaldt said local medical offices don’t have vaccines to distribute to their patients yet. Speaking with their primary care physician will enable Del Norters to get on a list of those who want the vaccine, he said Monday. That list will be turned over to public health, he said.

When McGuire took questions from the public, one person asked if grandparents who have received the vaccine can be around their grandchildren unmasked and without having to socially distance.
Brewer said though scientists know the COVID-19 vaccine is good at preventing serious disease, someone could still be contagious.

Even if they’re vaccinated, that grandparent could still pass it on to someone who isn’t vaccinated, he said.

Lusken-Hawk said clinical trials for the Moderna vaccine showed that protection wasn’t as high in older patients as in their younger counterparts.

“I think as a medical community we’re trying to learn more over time about how to predict if someone is well protected and should there be any people who should be extra cautious,” she said. “The older you are, you should still take some precaution. The vaccines have a high likelihood of significant protection, but it’s not full proof.”

It’s also unknown if a booster or a new vaccine will be required for someone to continue to be protected against COVID-19, Brewer said. Safety trials for both Moderna and Pfizer shots began last summer and scientists have data for only about six months, he said.

“From the early start of safety trials that began last summer, there hasn’t been any fall off in protection,” he said. “The second thing is how much does the virus change? If it changes enough, we may have to either get a booster or get a new vaccine.”


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