The first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Los Angeles Sunday night, after a group of medical experts convened by Western states confirmed Pfizer’s vaccine safe for public use.
The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, which also includes Washington, Oregon and Nevada, is a panel of experts launched by California to ensure the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. On Sunday, the panel confirmed that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is safe and efficacious and provided their recommendations to the governors.
The panel has worked with federal authorities concurrently and independently to review the Federal Drug Administration’s actions related to COVID-19 vaccinations, which the agency approved for emergency use of on Friday.
More than 325,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were on their way to California, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced earlier Sunday, amid record-setting case numbers and shrinking intensive care unit capacity.
The vaccines will be stored in ultra-low temperature freezers —about 94 degrees below zero— in UC Davis and other sites across the state.
The first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine left Michigan early Sunday for 145 distribution centers nationwide. States will get vaccines based on their adult population, and additional shipments are coming this week.
The vaccine is heading to hospitals and other sites across the country that can store it at extremely low temperatures. Pfizer is using containers with dry ice and GPS-enabled sensors to ensure each shipment stays colder than the weather in Antarctica.
In California — which on Saturday reported another record day of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases — counties will have specific allotments that will be distributed to hospitals determined by state health officials to have adequate storage capacity, serve a high-risk health care population and have the ability to vaccinate people quickly.
The first phase of distribution will focus on health workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
The vaccine requires two doses over a three-week period, state officials said.
Noting the reduced ICU capacity in the state, Newsom called the FDA’s approval of the vaccine a “tremendous step.”
“As California continues to fight the surge, we know hope is on the way with a vaccine,” Newsom said in a statement Sunday. “To help end this pandemic and move toward phased vaccine distribution across our state, we are calling on all Californians to continue doing their part.”
Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown said residents in her state can be confident that “some of the best doctors, scientists, and immunologists in the world have reviewed the data and affirmed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said: “It was crucial that the Western states had their own independent review of the vaccine, so we can have additional confidence on its safety and efficacy before we start administering to the people of our states.”
The vaccines come as the situation grows more dire by the day nationwide and in California, with the holiday season well underway.
Public health officials have been pleading with the public to stay home as much as possible, with already surging infection rates and hospitalizations expected to continue to climb as people ignore precautions to gather for the holidays.
Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County’s public health director, said on Saturday that “this is an extraordinarily challenging time,” as deaths have increased 416% across the county in the past month, while hospitalizations have increased 303% over the past 30 days.
“Hospitals are stressed and filling up with hundreds of new COVID-19 positive patients each day, our health care workers are exhausted, and deaths are reaching an all-time high,” Ferrer said Saturday. “Actions taken by each of us continue to make or break our collective ability to prevent many people from becoming infected, seriously ill and potentially passing away from COVID-19.”
On Saturday, state health officials announced another troubling milestone in the Central Valley, where the remaining emergency room capacity hit 0%.
The remaining capacity of Southern California ICUs fell to just 5.3% as officials expected many days of rising cases among people infected over Thanksgiving.