The first allocation of COVID vaccines will likely be coming to Santa Clara County next week, but there won’t be enough to vaccinate even half of the county’s front-line health workers, county COVID-19 testing officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said on Monday.
“This is a very small amount and we expected this,” Fenstersheib said. “There will be subsequent allocations that come.”
With the Pfizer vaccine poised for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval on Thursday and the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 17, the county is expecting to get multiple vaccine allotments over the next weeks and months.
But it will “probably be well into the next spring and summer to complete” vaccinating all those who want one, Fenstersheib said.
In the first allotment of the Pfizer vaccine, California will be getting 327,000 doses — of which 17,500 will be sent to Santa Clara County.
In line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state, acute-care health workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities as well as residents of long-term care facilities are first in line for the vaccine.
Hospitals will roll out the vaccines for their respective priority staff and the county will administer vaccine distribution for staff at long-term care facilities with an emphasis on those who work in skilled nursing facilities.
“These are very high-risk facilities,” Fenstersheib said. “They have 5 percent of all of our COVID cases but represent over 45 percent of deaths from COVID.”
There is an array of federal and state guidelines that outline how vaccines will be prioritized, even among the first priority group, and the county will strictly adhere to them, Fenstersheib said.
Most of the directives, however, will be coming after the vaccines are approved.
“We know the vaccine is not going to be coming in the large numbers that we need it so we are expecting the state to give us additional tools to do some of the sub prioritization that we will need,” Fenstersheib said. “Including that we make sure we meet all the equity requirements so that the people who are most impacted by this disease will have an opportunity to receive vaccine.”
And while hospitals are ready and gearing up for the incoming vaccines, they may not be ready to handle the exponentially growing number of COVID cases and hospitalizations the county is experiencing.
“Today (Monday) the county set a new record with 1,450 new patients,” COVID-19 Director of Health Care Preparedness Dr. Ahmad Kamal said. “That is double the record we set just last week.”
Typically, 10 percent of cases require hospitalizations, Kamal said. In the last week there were 72 new hospitalizations and by the next week, Kamal expects the number to rise to more than 100.
This is especially worrisome because there are only 50 ICU beds available in the county, as of Monday. Some hospitals have fewer than 5 ICU beds available and most hospitals are at 83 percent capacity.
Hospitals in the eastern and southern swaths of the county — which have the highest rates of COVID-19 — are 94 percent full.
Kamal said the hospitals and county are partnering with other healthcare partners trying to find ways to increase capacity but cautioned that their efforts are not enough without the community doing its part.
“We need to all double our efforts right now,” Kamal said. “This is the only way we can do this. Last spring our community showed that we are able to flatten the curve. Now is the time where we all must come together and remember that spirit we had and get it again.”
For the community, doubling efforts means strictly adhering to the county’s health order: sheltering in place, limiting interactions with those outside of the household, wearing masks and other safety precautions.
“A vaccine is coming, and it does provide hope, but it will not be immediate and we need to get through this together,” Kamal said.