California could start administering coronavirus vaccines to as many as 2.4 million of the state’s highest-priority health care workers in early December, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.
The state is making vaccine distribution plans around the estimated assumption that the first vaccines will be authorized by the FDA in early December. That first approval will likely be for the vaccine made by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, followed by the vaccine made by Moderna. Federal health officials have said states will begin receiving doses within 24 hours after the first vaccine receives FDA authorization.
“We’re waiting for FDA approval of at least one or more vaccines to occur in a number of weeks,” Newsom said. “We’re currently calendaring early December. … For planning purposes, we’re anticipating that FDA approval in early December. That hopefully will be Pfizer and Moderna.”
Pfizer said it submitted its application for FDA authorization Friday. Both Pfizer and Moderna recently shared Phase 3 clinical trial data indicating their vaccines are about 95% effective. AstraZeneca on Monday also shared early data showing its vaccine is 70% effective on average — 62% effective under one dosing scheme, and 90% effective under another dosing scheme.
However, depending on how many doses of the first vaccines are made available, there may not be enough doses for all 2.4 million California health care workers at first, Newsom said. Members of the state’s vaccination committees are working on a plan to divide those health care workers into subsets based on priority. That plan may be shared publicly as soon as the end of November.
“We begin with a framework of scarcity,” he said.
Newsom cautioned that mass vaccination will not likely occur until spring or summer 2021, reiterating previous estimated timelines made by state and federal officials regarding when most Americans will be able to get vaccinated.
Newsom said California has identified the need to buy 16 ultra-cold freezers and 61 smaller freezers to help transport and store the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius, or minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Some California hospitals have gone ahead and bought their own ultra freezers, and Pfizer plans to ship its vaccine in special containers equipped with dry ice. Newsom said the state’s freezers will supplement those efforts, and will likely be placed in regions that may struggle on their own to obtain such specialized freezers.
Moderna’s vaccine does not need freezers quite that cold. Its vaccine is kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius, and more hospitals and clinics have access to freezers that can accommodate that temperature. Moderna will work with McKesson, the Texas-based pharmaceutical distributor that until recently was headquartered in San Francisco, to distribute its vaccine.
In terms of cost, Newsom said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has committed $28 million to California for the first phase of vaccine distribution. The state has distributed $16 million so far — $10 million for planning and $6 million for staffing, Newsom said. He called the federal funding “inadequate,” and said the second round of funding “needs to be substantially greater.”
It’s unclear how much it would cost to distribute coronavirus vaccines in California. Newsom said he is working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to seek more federal funding for vaccine distribution.