Late Sunday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department halted all use of a recent Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shipment following an announcement by state officials that six vaccine recipients received medical treatment for what appeared to be severe allergic reactions.
A higher than usual number of adverse events were reported at one community vaccination clinic in the state, and those six vaccine recipients required medical attention over the span of 24 hours, all appearing to experience a severe allergic reaction during the standard observation period of 15 to 30 minutes.
None of them required hospitalizations, and more than 330,000 doses from this lot have been distributed to 287 providers in the state with no reports of any other clusters or individual events related to this lot.
Santa Barbara County received a lot of the vaccine in question, but had not administered any of the doses, and will not until they are cleared for use. Health officials are waiting on more information regarding this lot, but Deputy Health Director Paige Batson said Tuesday that she predicts it will be cleared for use.
“It’s reassuring to know that with over 330,000 doses given throughout the state and only these six individuals at this one particular vaccination site in Southern California (had reactions),” she said during a Public Health COVID-19 update. “To me, it’s reassuring that there may have been something else besides the vaccine.”
The matter is under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and California is the only state to have held further vaccinations with this lot.
Ms. Batson also spoke to the new COVID-19 variants circulating, including variant B.1.1.7 which emerged in the UK and L452R which has been found in multiple counties throughout California, including Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo counties.
B.1.1.7 has been characterized as spreading easier and quicker than other variants, but according to Ms. Batson, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased deaths. Regarding L452R, she said it is too early to tell how prevalent the variant may be although it’s been identified in several other outbreaks.
“Viruses constantly change through mutation and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time,” Ms. Batson said. “However, it is important to appreciate that an increase in the number of cases will cause more strain in hospitals and potentially more deaths.”
Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso announced that, according to the current four-week projection, Santa Barbara County remains at less than 15% ICU capacity, meaning it will remain under the regional stay-at-home order.
She also mentioned that in the first week of 2021, a total of 15 business outbreaks were reported, including four in agriculture, three in grocery stores, three in medical and health care settings, two in manufacturing, one in administration, one in a hotel and one in skilled labor. In the first week of January, there were 14 congregate care setting outbreaks.
In addition, the most recent week of data cases interviewed between Jan. 9 and Jan. 15 indicated that a majority attended a gathering, and over 75% of those attended a gathering with family and friends.
“This data shows clearly the impact of gatherings around the December holidays and the new year,” she said.
Dr. Do-Reynoso said that the health department is now vaccinating individuals 75 years and older, and it has not yet begun vaccinating the 65 to 74 age group or the rest of Phase 1B.
Local data shows that the county has administered 65% of the doses it’s received, as opposed to the state data that shows around 44% of doses have been administered. That, according to Dr. Do-Reynoso, is due to a lag in state data.
“I know that from the volume of calls that we have been receiving, the number of emails we’ve been receiving, that our community is eager to get the vaccine,” she said. “We are working hard on your behalf, and we’re just as frustrated with the limited number of vaccines we have.”