Vaccines are put to use
Health officials say that nearly 6,000 first doses of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are now being distributed to frontline health care workers from a handful of facilities across San Mateo County. Photo courtesy Sutter Health

The first COVID-19 vaccines have arrived and been administered in San Mateo County, County Health Department Public Information Officer Preston Merchant said Friday afternoon.

The county’s initial 5,850 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived throughout the week, and with just one hiccup, were delivered to six area hospitals to be administered to frontline health care workers.

Four of the initial 975-dose boxes were sent directly from the state supply this week to Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, Sequoia Hospital and both Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City and South San Francisco. The other two boxes went to San Mateo Medical Center, where one was set to stay and the other to go to Seton Medical Center in Daly City.

But Merchant said an approval holdup kept the doses headed to Seton at the county’s hospital waiting for a sign-off from the California Department of Public Health. By Friday, the Daly City hospital’s doses had arrived and were ready for use. Merchant said the holdup was a procedural issue, and not a problem with the vaccine doses themselves.

“It was not related to the integrity of the doses,” Merchant said.

At San Mateo Medical Center, the first vaccine recipients — all medical professionals that work with high risk patients, plus those responsible for administering the vaccine — headed to a vaccine clinic Friday morning for their shots. It was a successful “trial run” of the county’s vaccine administration infrastructure, Merchant said.

This nearly 6,000-dose shipment was just the first of six or seven deliveries the county expects before the end of the month, estimating that 24,000 of the total 38,000 health care workers in the county will get their first of two doses in the coming weeks.

In response to national reports that some states’ doses are being slashed by up to 40 percent, Merchant said the county is not expected to see any cuts to its allotment. In fact, Merchant said the county is now expecting some additional doses next week from both Pfizer and the soon-to-be-approved Moderna vaccine. The county also received two sub-zero freezers this week that can house thousands of both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

The initial 24,000 doses are just the ones passing through county hands. Even more doses are headed in the coming weeks to health care providers that span multiple counties, such as Kaiser and Sutter, directly from the state’s allotment starting with the upcoming Moderna shipments. Each provider is free to decide if it will disseminate all or save half of its initial deliveries for the required second shot 21 to 28 days later. Seton CEO Tony Armada has said Seton will be administering all of its doses from this first round, expecting more shipments to fulfill the second round.

Congregate care facilities are getting their own rounds of the vaccine, too. Beginning at the end of December, CVS and Walgreen pharmacies will be going into congregate care facilities to administer the vaccine as part of the CDC’s federal vaccination effort.

“There are a number of different tracks by which vaccination will happen in the county,” Chabra said.

Chabra said the county’s job will shift to making sure this complicated plan is executed and that no one slips through the cracks.

“We see our responsibility really as to fill in the gaps and make sure there is equity,” Chabra said. “And when there is a population that’s not being reached, that we figure out how to make sure that population, eligible for vaccination at that point, gets vaccinated.”

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