On Friday, L.A. County Health Services embarked on a mass COVID-19 vaccination effort that will result in 6,000 vaccinations by Christmas and 10,000 total vaccinations by Dec. 31 for its frontline healthcare workers. The vaccinations are initially taking place at three of the four county hospitals: LAC+USC Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Since the first vaccination allocation is limited, L.A. County Health Services is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidance in identifying and vaccinating those workforce members who are in the highest risk categories and working in the highest intensity areas, such as the ICU and emergency room.
A second COVID-19 vaccine, this one from Moderna, was endorsed Thursday by a panel of independent experts recommending that the Food and Drug Administration authorize it for emergency use.
F.D.A. Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement that the agency will “rapidly work toward finalization and issuance of an emergency use authorization.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices will meet this weekend to discuss the recommended use of the Moderna vaccine and will also vote on additional priority populations to receive it.
According to The New York Times, “Other side effects — fever, chills, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain — are much more common after getting the Moderna vaccine, especially after the second shot. Although the reported side effects are not dangerous they can be unpleasant, lasting one to three days.”
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been received by all nine pre-designated sites in L.A County and this initial allocation is being used by acute care hospitals to vaccinate health care personnel. Healthcare workers are prioritized for vaccination based on their job duties and associated risks of exposure to COVID-19 as well as risks of severe disease. A second allotment of Pfizer vaccine is anticipated to arrive next week and will be used to vaccinate additional healthcare workers at acute care hospitals.
If the Moderna vaccine receives an emergency use authorization, doses of this vaccine should arrive in L.A. County next week as well. These doses will be used to vaccinate residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities and frontline EMS responders.
The mass vaccination effort is occurring while L.A. County Health Services manages the largest surge of COVID-19 patients seen during this pandemic. Within the Health Services department, the surge has led to limited ICU capacity, nurse redeployment, overflow triage and treatment areas, ambulance diversion and long wait times in the emergency rooms.
As the county’s healthcare safety net, L.A. Health Services acute care hospitals have been highly impacted by the current COVID-19 surge as they primarily serve low-income and communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. While the vaccinations provide a glimmer of hope, L.A. County Health Services encourages the public to continue with its vigilance during these next few weeks and to stay at home as much as possible.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of L.A. County Health Services, thanked the healthcare workforce, including nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists and others who have been on the frontlines since March. “They have seen firsthand how devastating this pandemic has been and continues to be, and today we are battling an unprecedented surge in L.A. County that threatens to overwhelm our public hospitals and undermine our ability to care for patients,” she said. “But finally, there is hope.”
Dr. Ghaly also said L.A. County’s vaccination effort was unique for its scale — 10,000 workers by New Year’s Eve. “We are grateful we could mobilize and vaccinate so many of our healthcare workers,” she said. “We can’t respond to the rapidly growing need or overcome the resounding challenges if our workforce doesn’t stay healthy.”
“Receiving the COVID-19 vaccination is a huge step forward,” said Dr. Tamara Chambers, Chief of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at LAC+USC Medical Center who intubates COVID-19 patients in the ICU and was among the first cohort of healthcare workers to be vaccinated Friday. “It’s a breath of fresh air. We now have another layer of protection that allows us to care for those critically afflicted by the novel coronavirus. We get the vaccine for ourselves and for our communities. We want everyone to be protected so we can end this pandemic.”