Pfizer requests relaxed storage regulations, first dose found to generate robust immunity
Local elementary schools could reopen for in-person instruction as soon as next week, as the county’s COVID-19 case rate continues to decline.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, public health officer for the county Public Health Department, announced Friday that the county’s adjusted case rate for the past three days has been below 25 per 100,000, and if it stays that way over the weekend, elementary grades kindergarten through sixth will be able to reopen on Wednesday.
He said health officials will reach out to the schools on Monday to inform them of the case rate.
“We know how important it is to get our kids back in school,” Dr. Ansorg said.
He also discussed the state’s new guidance on school and recreational adult sports, which allows outdoor high- and moderate-contact sport practice and limited competitions for counties in the red and purple tiers.
“We are really confident this will be welcome news to young athletes, their parents and their coaches,” Dr. Ansorg said.
In addition to the good news for schools, there is the potential for some good news from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech.
On Friday, the vaccine company requested the U.S. health regulator to relax requirements for the vaccine to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, which could allow it to be stored in pharmacy freezers, according to national media reports.
Pfizer vaccines currently need to be stored at temperatures between negative 80 degrees Celsius and negative 60 degrees — if the FDA grants Pfizer’s request, the doses could be stored at negative 25 to 15 degrees Celsius for two weeks.
While the request is just from the company and hasn’t been peer reviewed, local health officials said that if granted, it would benefit vaccine distribution.
“Obviously, it would make things easier if Pfizer indeed gets approved for less stringent freezing for storage,” Dr. Ansorg said. “It will make it more competitive against Moderna who doesn’t have this in place. That would be good news, because then it will be easier to transport and move from place to place. That news would be really welcome.”
Dr. David Fisk, medical director for infection control and prevention at Cottage Health, told the News-Press that he’s waiting for more objective review of the information.
“But, if it is validated as being accurate, reliable information, it’s very encouraging from the standpoint of making it much more technically straightforward to distribute and administer this vaccine,” he said. “It would allow for it to be used in sites that are perhaps where more vulnerable individuals are residing or would have the opportunity to get the vaccine — more remote areas with less resources and certainly geographically a wider range of sites that don’t necessarily have minus 80 degree freezers.”
In addition, two new studies from Israel found that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine provides robust immunity, which could lead to giving out more first doses and less second doses, according to Dr. Fisk.
“That should indeed spur our efforts toward getting first doses out to a wider number of people and worrying about second doses later. It’s much more important for a public health standpoint,” he said. “We knew before this study came out, from a health care standpoint, it’s better to vaccinate more people with a single dose than a smaller amount of people with two doses. This large data set … was very encouraging further information on that and hopefully will be used for us to focus and revisit our current policies with vaccine allocation.”
Dr. Fisk added that he hopes to see the addition of the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could come in the next month or so.
Cottage Health reported on Friday that it is caring for a total of 298 patients across all campuses. At Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, 191 patients are acute care, and 33 acute care beds remain available.
There are 93 ventilators available.
The county reported four COVID-related deaths on Friday, two of which were individuals 70 years or older. The other two were between 50 and 69 years of age.
All four individuals had underlying health conditions and one death was associated with an outbreak at a congregate care site. The individuals resided in the Santa Ynez Valley, Orcutt, unincorporated North County and Santa Maria.
There were 154 new COVID cases reported in Santa Barbara County on Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 31,334, with 30,418 recovered cases, 392 deaths and 524 cases still active in the community.
Santa Maria reported 47 new cases, bringing its total number of active cases to 147. Santa Barbara reported 44, with 145 cases active in the city.
Goleta reported 10 positive COVID cases. Both the South County communities of Montecito, Summerland and city Carpinteria and the city of Lompoc reported nine new cases, but no new cases were reported at the federal prison complex in Lompoc.
The Goleta Valley and Gaviota reported six new cases, and so did the unincorporated areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama and Guadalupe.
Orcutt reported five new COVID cases; the Santa Ynez Valley reported four; and Isla Vista reported three.
The geographic location of 11 cases was pending on Friday.
In total, 97 people are receiving treatment at a local hospital, including 21 in the Intensive Care Unit. The county’s ICU availability was 19.7% as of Friday.