If approved by FDA, first doses would go to healthcare workers
The first COVID-19 vaccine could arrive next week in Santa Barbara County.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county public health officer, and Dr. David Fisk, Cottage Health’s medical director of infection prevention and control, said the first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine could be delivered quickly to local hospitals for healthcare workers who come into contact with COVID-19 patients, pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
“This is a very monumental day in the battle against COVID,” Dr. Fisk told the News-Press Thursday after the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted 17-4, with one abstention, to recommend the FDA approve the vaccine.
The FDA is not bound by the panel’s recommendation, but is widely expected to follow it. That authorization could come as soon as today.
“We are in such desperate straits in the country and state in battling COVID,” said Dr. Fisk, who’s also an infectious disease physician with Sansum Clinic. “Having this promising development is really good news.”
Dr. Ansorg noted, “I’m thrilled to have a vaccine.
“If everything goes according to plan, we will have a vaccine by the middle of next week — shipped directly from Pfizer to our hospitals: Cottage (in Santa Barbara) and Marian (Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria),” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press Thursday.
He added that Marian will take care of distributing the vaccine to Lompoc Valley Medical Center in Lompoc.
“Then a week later, right after Christmas or around Christmas, maybe on the 24th, we’ll get a shipment from Moderna,” Dr. Ansorg said, referring to the second vaccine being considered by the FDA.
“Then we should get follow-up shipments fairly quickly after that,” Dr. Ansorg added. “Both vaccines need a second shot.
“The absolute first priority is for health care workers: nurses, doctors and medical technicians in emergency rooms and ICUs and (elsewhere) in hospitals where they take care of COVID patients,” Dr. Ansorg said.
The public health officer said the next priority would be residents and health care workers in nursing homes. “They’ll get it sometime in January.”
Dr. Fisk said he doesn’t have information on when the vaccine will become available for patients who are seniors.
“We can expect the supply of vaccines in Santa Barbara County and the state to increase rapidly in the coming weeks,” he said.
Army Gen. Gus Perna, who’s in charge of the vaccine program called Operation Warp Speed, told CBS News in November that the federal government will begin to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine within 24 hours after it is approved.
Dr. Fisk said Cottage Health, which includes Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital as well as hospitals in Goleta and Solvang, is expected to receive at least 975 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.
“We’re identifying our individuals who work at Cottage who have the highest risk of COVID exposure based on their job duties,” Dr. Fisk said.
He said those employees include those working in the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Units, as well as those in other departments.
“That impacts a range of units across the institution,” he said. “It depends more on job duty than the point of exposure.”
Dr. Fisk said Cottage Health hasn’t had any staff who have acquired COVID from working in the COVID cohort units. “We’ve had staff acquire COVID from other healthcare workers in the work settings. We have had staff acquire COVID from patients who have had negative initial COVID testing upon their arrival or prior to their transfer.”
The News-Press asked Dr. Fisk about any concerns related to the two possible allergic reactions reported this week in Britain, which delivered the Pfizer vaccine to healthcare workers and seniors.
“I did not find those reactions surprising, given they were anticipated there would be some of those, given the nature of this vaccine,” Dr. Fisk said. He noted the two individuals had a known history of allergies.
Dr. Fisk said the rate of allergic reactions is very low when compared to the more than 40,000 people in Pfizer’s successful trials.
He said Cottage Health is preparing for the possibility of occasional allergic reactions for its staff and physicians.
He added he was encouraged by the findings in a New England Journal of Medicine article covering the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety. “I was very happy to see that.”
One concern is about the amount of vaccine needed.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he would invoke the Defense Production Act, if necessary, to ensure Americans are first in line for domestically produced vaccines.
“But we don’t think it will be necessary. If it is, it’s a very powerful act,” he said during a vaccine summit at the White House.
The act gives the president authority over U.S. industries and, for the sake of national security, requires private companies to prioritize contracts with the government.
Invoking the act should be considered to produce more vaccines and personal protection equipment, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, told the News-Press Wednesday.
He said farmers have told him they need more N95 masks for their workers in the fields.