Alameda County Health Department

REGIONAL — The first COVID-19 vaccine approved for distribution is expected to reach the Tri-Valley as soon as Friday, marking a turning point in the fight against the virus that so far has killed 558 people in Alameda County and upended life as we know it.

The initial 13,650 doses allocated to the county departed the Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan early Sunday following emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday.

“We’re starting as the rest of the country has in our jumpstart phase with our health workers and hospitals and also with first responders,” Dr. Kathleen Clanon, deputy health officer and medical director for Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, told the Board of Supervisors during a weekly COVID-19 briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Based on the volume of the vaccine the state says is coming in the next few weeks, Clanon said the county anticipates vaccination of all hospital-based workers and first responders will be well on its way by the end of the month. Other populations will receive vaccines based on priority.

The first phase will start with the highest risk front-line hospital workers and paramedics who perform intubations, an important procedure for rescuers in the field that also carries a high-risk for contracting the virus, Clanon said.

Under the vaccine prioritization framework, next in line are staff and residents of nursing homes. Clanon explained that the state expects this program to begin Dec. 28. In Alameda County, the federal government contracted with Walgreens to receive the vaccine from the state, store it and then go out to individual facilities to administer it — first to skilled nursing facilities where the most ill people are living, and then to other residential care facilities for the elderly — Clanon said.

The county aims to start early in some of the highest-risk neighborhoods in an attempt to get ahead of the current surge of expected infections. Throughout the pandemic, the Alameda County Public Health Department reported Black and Latino residents experienced a disproportionate rate of infection.

Federal health agencies and the California Department of Public Health developed the distribution timeline. The discretion of local health departments over prioritization is not entirely clear-cut, but the county works closely with community organizations to ensure distribution is fair and equitable, officials say.

Clanon reported that all of the county’s “911-receiving” hospitals with emergency rooms have been allocated at least some doses of the vaccine, that will initially be distributed by the health department. In addition, doses will be set aside to inoculate medical first responders, which include paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and firefighters, Clanon said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced last week that VA Palo Alto Health Care System, which operates VA Medical Center-Livermore, was selected as one of 37 VA sites to first receive the vaccine. The government selected the health care system for its ability to vaccinate a large number of people and to store doses of the vaccine at extremely cold temperatures.

The Livermore campus could begin administering shots to front-line health care workers there as early as Friday, a hospital spokeswoman confirmed.

There are multiple vaccines in the pipeline, including another “highly effective” COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna that the FDA aims to authorize for emergency use on Friday, with two additional vaccines likely to follow in the next month to six weeks. Most will require two injections, with approximately 30 days between doses.

The Pfizer-BioNTech, the first out the gate, appears to be safe with an efficacy rate of 95% in preventing COVID-19 based on a large-scale clinical trial. But it also brings significant logistical challenges. It requires a precisely timed delivery through a temperature-controlled supply chain.

Clanon, with the Alameda County health department, said most of the county’s hospitals have obtained the ultra-low temperature freezers necessary to store the vaccine, clearing the path for the vaccine to ship directly to larger health care providers, such as Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health.

Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare expects to receive 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine sometime this week, and plans to begin administering to high-risk health care workers on Friday, said Denise Bouillerce, senior director of government and community relations with the nonprofit healthcare organization.

Meanwhile, Kaiser Permanente — which has medical offices in Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton and San Ramon, as well as a cancer center in Dublin — says it is working to ensure an equitable distribution based on those health care workers in areas with highest risk for exposure.

“When we receive our vaccine allocations for health care workers, we are prepared to move quickly to vaccinate groups at greatest risk, as required by public health agencies, and based on our infectious disease leaders’ review of clinical evidence,” said Michelle Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president, for health plan and hospital operations at Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

The county’s first COVID-19 vaccination clinic is tentatively planned for Saturday, Sunday and Monday on the grounds of St. Rose Hospital in Hayward, where. St. Rose hospital workers and first responders will receive the vaccine. Simultaneous vaccination clinics are expected to take place at other hospitals in the county.

These early doses of COVID-19 vaccine come amid a surge of cases and hospitalization rates regionally and across the state, that health experts have described as the worst they have seen to date.

Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County’s health officer, 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.

“Vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel, but we must continue to keep each other safe during the roll-out,” Moss said.

For more information on the county’s vaccine plan, visit https://bit.ly/Indy_VaccinePlan.