Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

A Fragile Vaccine

Cover image for podcast episode

TARRYN MENTO

The inside of a refrigerator at Family Health Centers of San Diego.

A degree too warm, or a room too bright, all problems that could render a vial of Covid-19 vaccine ineffective at a time when shipment delays and shortages plague the distribution system. Meanwhile, after a suicide death at a COVID-19 isolation hotel last year, San Diego County paid a private company millions of dollars to take over operations. Our partners at Inewsource check out the progress. Plus, student loan forgiveness is a hot political topic these days as the student debt crisis deepens.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, February 22nd.

Just how fragile, exactly, is the covid-19 vaccine?

We’ll have more on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

The county says the Petco Park vaccination super station will remain closed today because of delayed vaccine shipments. Appointments for second doses were canceled over the weekend. UC San Diego Health says they will automatically be rescheduled. People who had appointments through MyUCSDchart should check the website for updates. Meanwhile, San Diego county public health officials reported more than 500 new covid-19 cases on Sunday and two additional deaths. It was the 10th consecutive day with new cases below 1000.

A new policy now in effect for the San Diego police Department will set parameters on how officers respond to protests. The new rules dictate when police can give dispersal orders and when they are allowed to fire less-lethal rounds. The San Diego Union Tribune reported on Sunday that the new rules were made in response last year’s protests against police brutality. According to the new rules, the police department’s goal is to ensure rallies stay peaceful, prevent criminal activities, control traffic, and facilitate the [quote]“safe exercise of an individual’s or a group’s first amendment rights.”

A local attorney won a temporary restraining order on Friday allowing high school and youth sports to resume in San Diego County amid the coronavirus pandemic. On Sunday Stephen Grebing said that his firm would be filing similar lawsuits in other California counties this week. That’s according to the City News Service..

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

KPbs has been tracking the extensive and meticulous planning process involved in launching a covid-19 vaccination site.

As part of our on-going series, KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento brings us this report on the rigid handling procedures necessary to ensure every dose remains viable.

A gentle swirl of the COVID-19 vaccine vial is critical. Anything more could render the dose ineffective before it fills a syringe and penetrates an arm.
The risk begins even before the shipped vials cross the threshold at Family Health Centers of San Diego.
“They're packed very carefully to minimize disturbance.”
Lisa Duncan is Vice President of Nursing and Clinical Compliance at Family Health Centers. She oversees vaccinations at the community clinic.
“They're frozen. So that helps. They don't get sloshed around.”
It can’t even be relocated off site without a prior OK.
They can maybe have one transport that has to be approved in advance to transfer vaccine supplies so that everyone knows where the vaccines are
The vaccine’s fragility adds an extra layer of complexity for providers. They must inject doses quickly to reach the county’s vaccination goal by July. But they also must take great care. Mishandling can destroy the vaccine’s potency… and ongoing supply challenges mean back-up doses are practically nonexistent.
it's a great art and science of managing that of this vaccine
Family Health Center’s current small scale operation in their breakroom is sort of a trial run. They're planning to vaccinate hundreds of people a day at an upcoming site outside their Logan Heights clinic. But the nation’s limited vaccine supplies have delayed its opening...making proper handling that much more critical.
So this is a conference room that we've repurposed for staging the vaccine. We have a freezer here that when the vaccine arrives from the manufacturer, we put it right into the freezer.
The pharmaceutical grade freezer that’s no bigger than a college dorm fridge is the key component. Anything outside the required cold temperatures triggers an alarm.
It's hooked up to our Wi-Fi and it'll send us a message whenever -- or if we have. Hopefully it doesn't happen -- but if the unit goes out of range, then we're notified immediately
But the vaccine must actually be thawed before it can be used. It’ll last up to 30 days in a fridge but only hours in the room down the hall where dosing takes place. And once the vial is pierced, it has a six-hour shelflife.
...you're constantly looking at how much needs to go in the refrigerator, how much do we pull out and put it into the room? How long has it been in the room? How long has it been open since you took out the first dose?
...it’s almost as if you’re dealing with chocolate.
Dr. Dial Hewlett is deputy health commissioner for Westchester County in New York.
He credits another scientist with the analogy but recounts it to explain the vulnerability of a key ingredient in the vaccine -- ribonucleic acid. Or RNA for short.
Dr. Dial Hewlett / Westchester County Deputy Health Commissioner
And if you have chocolate, you know that when it gets to a certain temperature, it’s going to melt
Hence the cold.
You have enzymes that will destroy the integrity that are not going to be active when you have a very low temperature but when you have a higher temperature, those enzymes will become active
Providers like Family Health Centers have coordinators whose sole job is to monitor the safe handling and storage of vaccines.
All of us are very much aware of the paraments and back each other up on that but generally one person is in charge of making sure that the supply is moving out of the refrigerator properly And at the end of the day, everybody starts sharing the vial so that we don't open one up
Every detail here will be duplicated and expanded at Logan Heights. Family Health Centers is hoping it will accommodate 750 people a day. But vaccine supply shortages means it's on hold for now. They’re hoping shipments will flow early next month thanks to an upcoming federal program that prioritizes community clinics. Tarryn Mento, KPBS News.

That reporting from KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento.

After a suicide death at a COVID-19 isolation hotel last year, San Diego County paid a private company millions of dollars to take over operations. But inewsource investigative reporter Cody Dulaney says the situation hasn’t improved.

DULANEY: Medication is delayed. Staff aren’t trained to deal with mental health issues. Security guards harass people.
Hotel guests and employees say that’s what’s happening at the Crowne Plaza in Mission Valley. Even after the county hired Equus Workforce Solutions to run the operation.
The county has been using the hotel since March to isolate people like William Morris and his wife Martha. They’d been living in their SUV. Morris said the county sent them to the hotel after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
MORRIS: “I wouldn’t put my worst enemy in a place like that. They don’t have empathy for people, compassion for people and they’re a bunch of animals running wild.” (8 secs)
Calls to police about the Crowne Plaza have tripled since the start of the pandemic. Many of those calls deal with mental health issues, including suicide attempts and threats.
A county spokesperson said when issues arise they’ve been immediately addressed. An Equus representative said it has implemented policies and trained staff to help those in isolation as much as possible.
For KPBS, I’m inewsource investigative reporter Cody Dulaney.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

“Pay what you can” is the philosophy of Coastal Roots Farm… a nonprofit Jewish community farm and education center in Encinitas that’s helping feed San Diegans. KPBS reporter Jacob Aere says more than 40,000 pounds of vegetables, fruit, herbs and eggs were donated by the organization just last year.

Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas shares organic produce with those who need it most, a mission it’s carried out for five years.They now donate over half of their harvest each year to community members who lack access to fresh food through a farm stand and local hunger relief organizations across San Diego County.
Coastal Roots Farm President and CEO Javier Guerrero says the need for food from their farm has greatly increased during the pandemic.
“Prior to COVID, it was about a third of the produce that we were offering through the pay what you can farmstand was being donated, people were needing that food. It’s actually grown closer to two-thirds during COVID.”
The organization has had a focus on helping local Holocaust survivors, active-duty military and veterans, immigrants and refugees, Native American communities and low-income seniors and families.
The farm stand is open Thursday 12 to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 10 to 3 p.m., and their “pay-as-you-can” policy is discreetly processed at a cash register. Jacob Aere, KPBS News.

That was KPBS’ Jacob Aere

One of California’s leading voices on housing policy has praised the city of Sacramento for its plans to create affordable housing --- so-called “missing middle” options. CapRadio’s Chris Nichols reports.

The Sacramento City Council supported early plans last month for allowing a greater variety of housing options, including duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, in neighborhoods zoned almost exclusively for single family homes.
These are often called “missing middle” options because they’re more affordable than single family homes and less dense than large apartment buildings.
Sacramento’s move won praise from housing advocates such as Democratic state Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco -- who has proposed some of the most ambitious -- and contentious -- housing bills at the state Capitol.
Here he is at a press conference last week:
“I just really want to commend Mayor Darrel Steinberg and every member of the Sacramento City Council. Sacramento should be something that other … that’s a great model for other cities to look to.”
The city of Sacramento’s proposal is part of its long-range general plan, which won’t receive a final vote until late this year.
Not everyone is a fan. Some in single family neighborhoods say the change could disrupt the character of their community.
But city planners and the state senator say options like triplexes and duplexes aren’t that different from existing homes.
“You can have a small multi-unit that totally fit in to the look and feel of neighborhoods.”
Wiener introduced a bill last week that would make it easier for cities statewide to allow duplexes and small apartment buildings. Chris Nichols, CapRadio News.

That was Capradio’s Chris Nichols.

Many coaches are embracing California’s new guidance on youth sports…and hope restrictions will loosen further as cases continue to drop. CapRadio’s Scott Rodd has more.

San Diego, meanwhile, is an exception to the statewide rule since a judge on Friday gave youth sports even more leeway. He said youth sports in San Diego County could move forward and field teams, in all circumstances, provided they use the same COVID-19 restrictions as professional and collegiate sports.

Coming up.... A conversation from students, by students, about why the idea of Student Loan Forgiveness has been gaining traction in mainstream politics. That story next just after the break.

It’s not uncommon for students to finish college with 5 or 6 digits of student loan debt. With the student debt crisis only ever growing, the idea of student debt forgiveness has become more and more popular. Last week, it was a topic of discussion during a presidential town hall. Catlyn Nguyen covered the topic for the Daily Aztec, the student newspaper at San Diego State University. She spoke with KPBS Roundtable Host Mark Sauer.

That was Catlyn Nguyen, a social media editor for the Daily Aztec, speaking with KPBS Roundtable Host Mark Sauer.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.