California will receive 327,000 doses of the first coronavirus vaccine in mid-December, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news briefing Monday.
It will be the state’s first tranche of coronavirus vaccines, developed by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech. Pfizer applied for Food and Drug Administration authorization last month and is widely expected to receive approval in December.
The 327,000 doses will go to health care workers, but the state’s vaccine committee is still determining which health care workers will go first, Newsom said. There are about 2.4 million health care workers in California, so the first round of vaccine distribution will not provide enough doses for all of them.
Details about which health care workers will get priority for the first doses will be announced this week, he said.
If the state hews closely to recommendations from the influential National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, it will be health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes and in-home care, and first responders. The state’s Community Vaccine Advisory Committee met Monday and decided to recommend that the first phase of vaccine distribution go to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses, given 21 days apart. The first 327,000 doses will go to 327,000 health care workers for their first round of injections. The state is slated to receive additional vaccines for the second injection soon after that. It’s unclear how long immunity from the vaccines may last, and whether people would have to get inoculated once or routinely.
Most Americans will probably not be able to get vaccinated until 2021 because there will be very limited numbers of doses at first, and they will be allocated based on order of priority. After health care workers, the next groups likely will be residents of skilled-nursing facilities and essential workers, such as people who work in agriculture, utilities and transportation.
The general population will be able to walk into a CVS or Walgreens and get vaccinated by April or May, Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted in a conversation with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Monday. Vaccines are also expected then to be available at doctors’ offices and clinics.
“The challenge is going to be to convince people to get vaccinated,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert said, adding that if 75% to 85% of the population gets vaccinated by the end of the second quarter of 2021, the U.S. will effectively suppress the pandemic. “If you want to be part of the solution, get vaccinated. Say, ‘I’m not going to be part of the stepping-stone of getting the virus to other people. I’m going to be a dead end to the virus.’”
So far, only two vaccine developers, Pfizer and Moderna, have applied for, or expressed intentions to apply for, FDA authorization. An FDA committee plans to meet Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer’s application and Dec. 17 to discuss Moderna’s.
Operation Warp Speed officials have said doses of the Pfizer vaccine will begin shipping within 24 hours of receiving FDA authorization.
The distribution of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to be more complicated than other vaccines because it must be kept at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit since it contains fragile genetic material. In preparation, many hospitals and state health departments have bought special ultra-low-temperature freezers to store and transport the Pfizer vaccines. And Pfizer has designed shipping units with dry ice that can keep the vaccines very cold.