Board of Supervisors discuss vaccine rollout, A2
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations are en route to end the nationwide recession and lockdown, but many questions still remain unanswered.
One thing stands out about these vaccines versus those that came before — their speedy arrival.
Cottage Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons told the News-Press Tuesday that there’s something to be said for the speed of this whole process and the predicted timeline in which vaccines will be rolled out.
“I do think that the timeline, from what we know so far, sounds realistic, and really quite remarkable when we compare this experience to all vaccines before this,” she said.
The first two vaccines are slated to come to Santa Barbara County by the end of December and/or early January, with four others likely available in February or March, according to Dr. Henning Ansorg, the County Public Health Officer.
He told the News-Press the general population may expect to be able to receive a vaccine as early as March.
“If everything goes very well, if we have no bumps with regard to distribution, administration or any kind of need to pause the vaccine for safety concerns, if everything goes perfectly, I think we’re well set up to give this vaccine to tens of millions of people in the coming weeks, which is very, very exciting,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “Vaccines are very likely to be our exit strategy from this entire pandemic.
“All signals are very positive at this point.”
Now, medical officials must focus on answering the question: Who gets this vaccine first?
Locally, the first allotment will be offered to healthcare workers, first responders and elderly in skilled nursing facilities only, with the details still being discussed at state and federal levels.
So far, both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been tested on a total of about 75,000 volunteers since late July, and no major reactions occurred in the test individuals. However, both vaccines produced similar mild to moderate vaccine reactions such as sore injection site, chills, mild fever, fatigue, etc., typically lasting one to two days.
“This is expected and common with other vaccines,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press, citing shingles, measles and flu vaccines. “At this point, with the current data at hand, the risk from getting a severe case of COVID is much greater than experiencing a serious vaccine reaction.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons echoed the importance of weighing the risks of contracting COVID-19 with potential risks from the vaccines.
“When we think about the skilled nursing operations or long-term care, these individuals are mostly over the age of 70 and often with lots of complicated medical problems. We have to remember just how high risk they are to die of COVID-19 if they become infected,” she said.
She said that medical officials, at this point, understand the risk of COVID-19 is worse than that of vaccine side effects, but it’s premature to say that conclusively.
In terms of distribution, Dr. Fitzgibbons said it’s important to think about who’s at the highest risk of becoming infected, and considering not just the personal, but also the societal impacts of that group becoming infected.
She mentioned essential workers and educators as subgroups that should be high-priority, but there are, again, too many groups to estimate.
Another topic in question regarding the vaccine is the power of employers and businesses to require employee vaccinations.
“People are already talking about showing proof of vaccination to allow them to travel with less restrictions,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “There are businesses that would consider this as either a strong recommendation or even a requirement, and if we have great success with the vaccine, it may be the case that, for some essential lines of work, public health departments decide it is a requirement for people in that line of work to receive the vaccine.”
Finally, she said she doesn’t foresee a scenario in which individuals who have survived COVID-19 will be excluded from the vaccine, because immunity isn’t absolute in every case.
As for other institutions, most are simply waiting for more data and safety information to come in before making any decisions.
Randy Eilts, a spokesperson for the retirement community Covenant Living at the Samarkand, told the News-Press that for them, it’s a matter of waiting for direction.
“Much like everyone else, what we are hearing in the news and seeing on the news is about as much as we know in terms of how the distribution is going to be handled,” he said.