Santa Clara County began injecting the first 210 skilled nursing workers with the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday morning, health leaders said at a press conference. The announcement comes as the county faces the most challenging surge yet in coronavirus cases since March.
As of Dec. 17, the county has an average of more than 1,000 new cases per day. The county has passed the 52,000-case mark and 566 residents have died. Another 566 residents are also currently hospitalized and intensive care unit beds are dwindling, county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said.
"At last, we have a ray of hope," Cody said of the vaccine. "I look forward to the day that I can be vaccinated. It's not my turn yet," she said, noting that the county will stick to federal prioritization guidelines for who receives the vaccine.
The county set up a vaccination clinic at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose and started inoculating workers with the vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech at about 9 a.m.
Skilled nursing and long-term care facility workers received priority because they are in contact with the most vulnerable population who are at highest risk of death and complications from the new coronavirus. Residents of such facilities represent 5% of COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County but make up 45% of the deaths, COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said.
Later this week and over the weekend, all county hospitals will begin vaccinating their health care workers. Hospitals are receiving their shipments from the county's Public Health Department, Fenstersheib said.
"It's certainly a bright light at the end of a very dark tunnel," he said.
Both Cody and Fenstersheib asked the public to be patient as the vaccines slowly arrive in batches. The next several months are going to be challenging, and they cautioned people to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, limit their contact with others outside of their immediate households and to wash their hands frequently. Now is not the time to let one's guard down, they said.
"It's going to take 70% to 80% of the community to be vaccinated" to achieve herd immunity, Fenstersheib said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could meet over the weekend to discuss the next phase of prioritization, known as Phase 1B, which would vaccinate essential workers.
The doses administered this week are part of an estimated 68,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna which are expected to be allocated to the county by next week, according to county health leaders.
Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, asked the public to be patient and to follow the safety protocols to help push through the pandemic surge.
"I know everyone is really tired," she said. "We're moving into the holiday season and one of the things that's important about it is that it's all about hope. … We can see our way out by working together."
Moderna COVID-19 vaccine clears through FDA advisory panel
On Thursday, Dec. 17, the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended the emergency use authorization of the Moderna Inc. COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 years and older by a vote of 20 in favor and one abstention.
The decision, which was made after an eight-hour hearing by video conference, could increase the nation's vaccine supply. Moderna is now the second company to have reached this stage and could follow Pfizer-BioNTech as soon as Friday or this weekend with approved authorization.
Some committee members who had not voted in favor of recommending the Pfizer authorization last week said on Thursday that they were impressed with Moderna's data and transparency.
"We're in an unparalleled crisis," Dr. A. Oveta Fuller said.
"Moderna gave a very transparent and thorough study from the beginning," she said, noting that she didn't say yes to the Pfizer study the last time. She also felt that Moderna took care of the study participants and planned to monitor them closely for adverse effects.
Dr. Michael Kurilla, the lone abstainer, said he could not vote in favor of the recommendation.
"I'm very uncomfortable with the language in the midst of a pandemic and with a limited supply of vaccine available. A blanket statement of individuals 18 years and older is just too broad. I'm not convinced for all of these age groups the benefits do actually outweigh the risks, and I would prefer to see it more targeted for people at high risk of serious and life-threatening COVID disease," he said.
Rather than an emergency use authorization, he preferred to have recommended an expanded access program, which would have been more targeted.
Dr. Arnold Monto, the committee's acting chair, said that even though the approval was more sweeping than for the Pfizer vaccine, people should not think that one vaccine is thought better than the other. The decision was weighted in the way information was presented and the nuances of the panel's scientific inquiry, he said.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.