LOGO - Alameda County Seal

With Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine expected soon, Alameda County public health officials are poised to roll out the first phase of a massive immunization program later this month.

The first COVID-19 vaccine under consideration for U.S distribution appears to be safe and effective according to the FDA. If Emergency Use Authorization is granted, the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could reach the county as soon as mid-month.

“We should know Thursday or shortly thereafter,” Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County Health Officer, told the Board of Supervisors during an oral presentation on Tuesday.

The very first people to get the vaccine under California’s vaccine prioritization framework are high-risk health workers and first responders, those who work in settings where they are most likely to come into contact with COVID.

Next in line are people of all ages with underlying health conditions that put them at significantly higher risk, and older adults living in congregate or overcrowded conditions. Immunization with the vaccine is voluntary not mandatory, but the county strongly encourages immunization.

The good news arrives on the week the county implemented the most restrictive health order since spring.

Moss said deliveries of the vaccines are expected on a weekly basis and the county will play a role in working through phases of the program over several months. He did not specify the number of doses expected to arrive in the first shipment. A spokesperson for the public health department referred The Independent to the department’s web page on COVID-19 vaccines.

The county health department is focused on engaging and informing stakeholders. The department will coordinate with clinical providers, ensuring workers are immunized and that there is also broad access in all communities. They will also make sure vaccines are distributed and stored appropriately.

There are multiple vaccines in the pipeline. The first includes significant logistical challenges. It requires two doses, though provided benefits after the first injection in clinical studies and requires a precisely timed delivery through a temperature-controlled supply chain.

“An important thing to realize is that the vaccine will be most effective if it gets to as many residents as possible for whom it’s recommended,” Moss said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, noted this week people’s hesitancy to get vaccinated could get in the way of a successful vaccination program.

Moss said part of the county’s role will be “building trust around delivery” and addressing “some of the misinformation that’s out there.”

Wide availability of the vaccine could be many months off. Even with the latest lockdown, COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization in Alameda County are projected to continue climbing through the month of December.

Moss urged people to continue taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. That means the need for mask wearing, keeping a distance from other people, hand washing and limiting gatherings are not going away just yet.

“It’s going to be a while before we get enough people vaccinated that the risk is low enough in our communities that we’re going to be able to wholly stop all of these other things,” Moss said. “I truly hope that this is the last time we have to implement such blunt, widespread restrictions on people’s activities.”