SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — With COVID-19 cases surging, an extended evening curfew and California counties now mostly all in the purple tier, there is pandemic fatigue but also hope. While Californians continue to socially distance, wear masks and practice good hand-washing hygiene, the focus is shifting to promising reports of progress toward approval of an FDA-approved coronavirus vaccine.
“If it happens on Thanksgiving Day, it happens on Thanksgiving Day but we’ll be ready to go,” remarked Stanford University professor Dr. Yvonne Maldonado.
Early Friday, Pfizer applied for emergency approval for its COVID-19 vaccine. A large team of medical officers and compliance experts are now poring over piles of data, not yet made public, which detail the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.
Soon, experts in California get to dig in.
“Our committee is charged with reviewing the safety of the vaccine,” explained Dr. Maldonado, a world expert on vaccines who is on the ACIP committee which makes vaccine recommendations to the CDC. She is also on the team entrusted with advising California on any coronavirus vaccine.
“After the CDC gets it … we will have an emergency meeting. At the same time or within hours … we will have that information available to the state,” said the vaccine expert.
“The state has a plan in place … it’s complicated,” said public health epidemiologist Dr. Art Reingold from UC Berkeley.
Dr. Reingold heads up California’s vaccine safety team, known officially as COVID-19 Scientific Safety Review Workgroup.
“This is an independent group of … local health department experts who are going to review this and the plan is to do it absolutely with no delay as soon as the data become available from manufacturers,” explained Dr. Reingold.
As of now, the federal government detailed how they will distribute COVID vaccines to states based on a formula. While not yet finalized, in the first distribution, California may get one to two million complete doses to vaccinate those at high risk.
“People who work in the ICU and emergency departments, those at highest risk for infection including nursing homes,” UCSF epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford said.
Because the Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, the doses will be packed in custom containers and then shipped directly to clinics, pharmacies and public health departments. Once an order is filled, the vaccine will be shipped with 48 hours, according to the CDC.
UCSF and San Francisco General Hospital are among the seven designated California sites for early distribution of the Pfizer vaccine.
A complete dose requires 2 shots given 21 days apart.
Late Friday, UCSF told KPIX that, since this vaccine is more complex than a flu shot, the medical center and S.F. General are working out how to vaccinate their health care workers. The COVID-19 vaccination model that these institutions roll out will likely use a modified version of their flu clinic model.
Sutter Health told KPIX that it is working on plans for COVID-19 distribution, which includes infrastructure, staffing, equipment and supplies. Teams at Sutter Health are currently in the process of setting up the necessary cold storage and transportation infrastructure for a safe distribution of the vaccine.
Sutter’s planning group has already acquired about 15 ultra-cold temperature freezers, including smaller portable options. Depending on their size, these freezers can store about 12,000 to 30,000 doses. The smaller freezers will be used to transport doses or for use in mobile “pop-up” vaccination units.