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San Diego County Receives First COVID-19 Vaccines For Military, Civilians

A nurse inspects the first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in San ...

Credit: County of San Diego

Above: A nurse inspects the first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in San Diego on Dec. 14, 2020.

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The first batches of Pfizer's long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine arrived in San Diego County Monday for both U.S. Department of Defense personnel and civilians, with initial vaccinations to begin as soon as Tuesday.

Aired: December 14, 2020 | Transcript

The first batches of Pfizer's long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine arrived in San Diego County Monday for both U.S. Department of Defense personnel and civilians, with initial vaccinations to begin as soon as Tuesday.

Naval Medical Center San Diego received an unspecified number of vaccines Monday, with front-line medical workers and essential mission personnel — such as EMS, firefighters and gate personnel — to begin receiving the first dose of the vaccinations Tuesday. Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton will take a portion of those doses for personnel north of San Diego.

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"We are proud to support operation Warp Speed," said Rear Adm. Tim Weber, commander of Naval Medical Forces Pacific. "This vaccine will strengthen our ability to protect our people. I am confident in the stringent regulatory process of the FDA."

Weber said the number of doses delivered to the Navy in San Diego is likely fewer than the number of "first-tier" medical personnel at the two hospitals. Subsequent vaccine allotments — as the supply chain dictates — will allow for the second dose of the vaccine to be administered to medical and other "mission-essential" workers, as well as those who missed it the first time, Tricare dependents and non-essential personnel.

The number of doses delivered to the San Diego-area military is classified, Weber said, calling it an "operational security issue." However, the U.S. government has allocated vaccines to 64 jurisdictions, and the DOD plans to administer its initial allocation of 43,875 doses to populations of uniformed service members -- both active and reserves. That includes members of the National Guard, dependents, retirees, civilian employees and select contract personnel.

On the civilian side, San Diego County also received a portion of 28,000 doses of the vaccines Monday with the remainder going to UC San Diego Medical Center and Rady Children's Hospital on Monday and Tuesday. The allotment is part of around 327,000 doses California is expected to receive in the first distribution. The initial allotment will cover around 72% of what is needed for "all identified health care first-tier recipients," San Diego County spokesman Jose Alvarez said.

Dr. Brian Clay of UC San Diego Health says that they are optimistic to start administering the vaccine as soon as possible.

“We do expect to be able to start vaccination this week and we are very excited about that," Clay said.

The deliveries of the first COVID-19 vaccines in San Diego County come as California started its mandated weekly testing of all healthcare staff and patient admissions on Monday. Clay said UC San Diego Health has been preparing for the additional step.

"We are getting over 1000 employees who are undergoing asymptotic screening for COVID tests every day," said Clay of UC San Diego Health. "So we are doing quite a bit of testing of our workforce and we think this is very helpful to be able to catch any people who may have COVID but not have any symptoms," he said.

Vaccinations at skilled nursing facilities will be handled separately. The facilities reported to the state how many they needed and are not part of the initial 28,000 distributed in the county. Subsequent allocations earmarked for nursing facilities will go to commercial pharmacies to be directly administered to skilled nursing facility residents and staff under a contract with the federal government.

Critical care health workers will be the first people to get the vaccine, followed by nursing home and long-term care facility residents and employees. As other pharmaceutical companies receive emergency use authorization, more vaccines will arrive in the region, Alvarez said.

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Scripps Health said it plans to start vaccinating its frontline workers starting Thursday.

"There’s a tremendous amount of tracking of the vaccine that has to be done, as well as uploading the information of all those who have been vaccinated so we can keep track of that," said Dr. Nicholas Holmes of Rady Children's Hospital. "In addition, in 21 days from the initial vaccine dosage, they will receive a second dosage as well.”

The initial distribution will not be sufficient to vaccinate all people in these populations. However, the state anticipates receiving hundreds of thousand more doses over the next few weeks, followed by weekly allocations starting next year.

Once people in these first two groups are vaccinated and more COVID- 19 vaccine doses are available, they will go to essential workers such as people who work in education, food and agriculture, police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and transportation workers, among others.

After that, the priority will be to vaccinate adults with underlying medical conditions and people over the age of 65 because they are at higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19.

Doses of the Pfizer vaccine began shipping out from a Michigan facility Sunday bound for Southern California distribution centers and other locations in the United States. The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control signed off on the recommendation of an advisory committee Sunday, officially permitting the vaccine to be administered in the United States. It is said to be 95% effective in preventing the coronavirus.

Capt. Devin Morrison, acting director of Naval Medical Center San Diego, said vaccines for military personnel will be voluntary until the FDA's emergency use authorization is lifted, at which time military personnel will follow DOD guidelines. Military personnel, including medical workers, can refuse the vaccine until then and will continue to operate with strict personal protective equipment standards, Morrison said.

Army Gen. Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed told reporters Saturday that UPS and FedEx would be delivering the vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the country.

The department is prioritizing DOD personnel to receive the vaccine based on CDC guidance, first focusing on those providing direct medical care, maintaining essential national security and installation functions, deploying forces, and those beneficiaries at the highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19 before other members of the DOD population.

Distribution will be conducted in phases. Due to limited availability of initial vaccine doses, the first phase will distribute and administer vaccines at select locations.

Initial distribution sites — including the two San Diego sites — were selected by the DOD's COVID Task Force based on recommendations from the military services and U.S. Coast Guard, to best support several criteria:

• anticipated supply chain requirements, such as cold and bulk storage facilities;

• local population of at least 1,000 priority personnel across the military services; and

• sufficient medical personnel to administer vaccines and actively monitor vaccine recipients.

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