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Newsom: State Looking To Speed Administration Of COVID-19 Vaccines

California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds up a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 ...

Photo by Jae Hong AP

Above: California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds up a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a Los Angeles medical facility. Coronavirus cases continue to soar in the state as hospitals struggle to keep up with the surge.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday the state is working to accelerate the administration of COVID-19 vaccines across the state, including expanding the number of distribution sites and the types of people who can give the shots.

Newsom said the state has received nearly 1.3 million doses of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and another 611,500 doses have been shipped to the state. As of Sunday, however, a total of 454,306 doses had actually been administered.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

"We are working aggressively to accelerate our pace," Newsom said. "... We're going to start seeing more rapid distribution of vaccines, I can assure you of that. That said, it's gone too slowly, I know, for many of us. All of us, I think, we want to see 100% of what's received immediately administered in people's arms.

"So that's a challenge, a challenge across this country. It's a challenge for that matter around the world, but that's not an excuse."

Newsom said the state is working to increase the number of sites where shots can be administered and the people who can give the shots, including dentists, pharmacy technicians and members of the National Guard.

The governor said he has heard "anecdotal evidence" about frontline health care workers — the top priority for receiving the shots — declining to be vaccinated, but he had no specific numbers. He said the state is conducting a survey to get a better idea of the number.

The Los Angeles Times reported officials in L.A. and Riverside counties are estimating 20 to 50% of health care workers are turning it down. In San Diego County, a spokeswoman for the county's health and human services agency referred questions about refusals to individual hospitals.

At UC San Diego Health, 3% of employees have declined, a spokeswoman said in an email. Other large hospital systems in the region did not immediately provide similar data to KPBS.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said facilities can use extra doses to vaccinate someone further down the priority list, but officials are working to clarify that process.

"To make sure it's clear who they can give it to and really to encourage the continued sort of drum beat of get people vaccinated while making sure they're still doing as much as they can to target the most vulnerable, the most exposed," Ghaly said.

The state's vaccine task force is still working on setting priorities of who will be first in line during upcoming phases of the distribution system. Newsom said the state is still in the first phase of distribution, covering healthcare and frontline workers.

"We've got work to do on this," Newsom said. "... Obviously as we move into January, we want to see things accelerate and we want to see things go much faster."

Meanwhile, the governor said there are now six confirmed cases in the state of a new COVID-19 variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom. The new strain of the virus is not considered more dangerous, but it is far more contagious and spreads more rapidly. The virility of that strain contributed to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announcing a nationwide lockdown in an effort to control its spread. Johnson said his advisers informed him the new strain was 50% to 70% more transmissible than the original virus.

Of the six cases found in the state, four were detected in San Diego County — which confirmed the diagnoses last week — and two more were identified in San Bernardino County. Newsom noted that more cases will almost assuredly be detected.

He added that federal health officials believe the current COVID-19 vaccines will also protect against the new strain of the virus.

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