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County Gets First COVID Vaccines as Infections Break Record

A shipment containing 1,950 doses of Pfizer's vaccine arrived at Marin County's emergency operations center on Wednesday morning. Health officials distributed the doses to local hospitals and skilled nursing centers.

by Matthew Pera, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif. / December 17, 2020
(TNS) - Hospital workers at the Kaiser Permanente San Rafael Medical Center in California on Wednesday were the first in Marin to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, marking a historic moment in the pandemic.
"It's what we've all been waiting for," said Charles Hill, a 69-year-old janitor at the hospital, who rolled up his sleeve and went first.
A shipment containing 1,950 doses of Pfizer's vaccine arrived at Marin County's emergency operations center on Wednesday morning. Health officials distributed the doses to local hospitals and skilled nursing centers, where they will initially be offered to staff members.
"This couldn't come soon enough," said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County's public health officer. "Vaccinating our front-line health care workers will protect them as they manage surges in cases."
The shipment arrived the same day that Marin shattered its record for the most new coronavirus cases in a single day, with 136 new infections reported. That came just a day after health officials announced that intensive care units in Marin's hospitals had reached maximum capacity.
According to Willis, the hospitals have begun to implement "surge plans" to accommodate the growing number of coronavirus patients requiring ICU admission. That means nurses are transferred from other departments to ICUs, and some are asked to work extra shifts. Patients are transferred out of intensive care as soon as it is safe to do so.
Surge plans are typical during the peak of flu season, according to Willis.
"The concern," he said, "is that COVID-19 is driving this increase in ICU admissions, and case rates continue to rise."
Wednesday marked the fourth time since the beginning of the pandemic that Marin has recorded more than 100 new infections in one day. The most recent was on Aug. 12, when the county last broke its daily case record with 112 new infections.
Health officials reported that 34 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Marin on Wednesday, which was the highest number in more than five months. Twelve of those patients were in intensive care. The only time more coronavirus patients have been hospitalized in the county was on July 7, when the summer surge coincided with an outbreak at San Quentin State Prison and inmates were being treated in Marin's hospitals. On that day, 35 people were hospitalized with the virus.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday issued a stay-at-home order for the entire Bay Area as the region's ICU capacity dropped to 12.9%, below the 15% threshold that makes the order mandatory. Marin joined five other Bay Area counties in voluntarily implementing the lockdown restrictions last week, with a targeted Jan. 4 end date. But under the governor's mandatory order, the restrictions will stay in place longer.
At the soonest, the lockdown could be lifted after three weeks, on Jan. 6, depending on the Bay Area's remaining ICU capacity. At that time, the capacity projected out four weeks must rise to at least 15% for the stay-home order to expire. Businesses would then be regulated based on each county's status in the state's four-tiered system for reopening.
Willis on Wednesday called the arrival of the vaccine "the best holiday gift you can imagine," but he urged people to continue following public health guidelines to prevent coronavirus transmission. He said people should avoid gatherings, maintain social distancing and wash their hands frequently.
Willis said Thanksgiving gatherings helped fuel the current surge, and he fears celebrations during the upcoming holidays will have a similar effect if people gather in person.
Doug Clark, a 60-year-old nurse who works in the emergency department at Kaiser hospital in San Rafael, got a vaccination just seconds after Hill did on Wednesday. He called it "the key to returning to a normal state."
"But it's going to take a long time," said Clark, who lives in Fairfax.
Health officials are set to offer the first vaccinations to health care workers, first responders and residents at long-term care facilities over the coming weeks.
Beginning in late January, when more doses arrive, vaccines will be given to essential workers, seniors and people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
Vaccinations will be offered to the general public beginning in March at the soonest, according to Willis.
"It's going to be at least three months before we're able to vaccinate the wider community," Willis said on Wednesday.
The Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored in specialized freezers, requires a second dose 21 days after the first one is administered. After two injections, the vaccine is between 90% and 95% effective at providing immunity, according to Willis.
Another vaccine, created by Moderna, requires two doses 28 days apart. Willis said the county expects to receive 3,000 doses of that vaccine next week.
Laura Eberhard, medical director of the ICU at Kaiser Permanente San Rafael Medical Center, said the Pfizer vaccine's arrival on Wednesday "signals the beginning of the end of the epidemic."
"This really is a historic day," Eberhard said.
(c)2020 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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