COVID-19 - Dr. Jim Halverson

COVID-19 - Dr. Jim Halverson

Ask Dr. Halverson: When might the general public be vaccinated?

web 4 17 Halverson photo
By Dr. Jim Halverson
The highly anticipated opportunity to provide effective vaccines against COVID-19 began Dec. 11 with the approval of the Pfizer m-RNA vaccine.
Moderna’s mRNA vaccine was approved Dec. 18. Both require two vaccinations (Pfizer 21 days and Moderna 28 days apart) and are being given in our county. Here is information on what is happening in Ventura County currently, when you may be able to receive your first dose of the vaccine, and what you may experience when you receive it. 


Current vaccine status in Ventura County
The county of Ventura COVID-19 Task Force has been working for the past three months to develop a comprehensive vaccination plan that allows for rapid distribution and administration of the vaccines when they arrive from the California Department of Public Health. The first 6,800 Pfizer vaccine doses were received in the middle of December and were equally distributed to the six major hospitals in Ventura County. 
These hospitals had already been equipped with proper cold storage equipment to store the vaccines until they were administered. Ventura Community Memorial Hospital began vaccinating hospital and medical staff Dec. 18. Employees and physicians at Community Memorial and Ojai Valley Community Hospital (nearly 3,000 total) were given the opportunity to receive the vaccine on the eighth floor of Community’s Ocean Tower through scheduled appointments. A total of 2,456 had already received their first vaccine dose by Dec. 28.  Each who had received the first dose were already scheduled to receive the second dose 21 days later at the same location.
 All eligible medical staff, hospital staff and medical first responders should be on a similar schedule at every other hospital in Ventura County. As additional vaccine continues to be received from Pfizer and Moderna, residents and staff of long-term care and assisted-living facilities in our county will soon be vaccinated through the Pharmacy Partnership Program being carried out by Walgreens and CVS.


When you might be vaccinated
The county of Ventura website gives an excellent overview of the priority groups and possible timetable for each to begin receiving the vaccine at  (See illustration with this column.) Currently, the timetable indicates that phase 1A, just described in the prior paragraph, should be completed by late February. Phase 1B (people age 75 and over, law enforcement workers, firefighters, K-12 teachers and school staff, food and agricultural workers, and other critical infrastructure workers) should be able to begin receiving their first dose in early February.
There will be overlap of the phases due to current vaccines requiring two doses. Hopefully, that phase will be completed by the end of March. Phase 1C (adults 65 and older, adults 18 and over with high-risk medical conditions, and all other critical infrastructure workers not included in phase 1B) should then be able to begin to receive their first dose by mid to late March. Late April would then be the start of “open season” for the general public to begin to receive their first doses. This would enable our country to hopefully attain up to a 70% vaccination rate, enabling herd immunity to be obtained by the end of summer 2021, if the roll-out program to each priority group goes smoothly.


Where you might obtain both doses of the vaccine
As vaccine availability increases, so will the number of locations that are able to offer it. Nearly 600,000 people in our county (1.2 million doses) will need to receive the vaccine to achieve herd immunity and bring this pandemic well under control. It is required that you get the same vaccine for both doses and every effort should be made to schedule your second dose when you receive your first one. Ventura County Public Health has plans to offer the vaccine through drive-through locations and walk-up clinics. More pharmacies will be able to offer it, especially as more of the Moderna vaccine is received, which does not have the extreme cold-storage requirements that the Pfizer vaccine has. 
I am hopeful that, eventually, physicians’ offices will become involved in vaccinating their established patients who have not yet received the vaccine. Currently, our office has not received any information about if and when we will be offered the opportunity to participate in this manner.


What to expect when you receive the vaccine
I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 20 at Community Memorial Hospital. I arrived at my scheduled time and was given a brief health screening to enter the facility. Proper social distancing was continually observed and masks were worn by all involved at all times. I filled out a brief health questionnaire and signed an appropriate consent form for the vaccine. My vaccine was given very efficiently and painlessly by a registered nurse at one of the six vaccination stations. I was then instructed to wait in a separate area for 15 minutes to see if there was any immediate side effect. 
During that time, I received my appointment time to receive the second vaccine dose, 21 days later, on Jan. 10. Additional information was given about how to report any side effects to V-SAFE, the Centers for Disease Control vaccine-monitoring tool.
I experienced no side effects. I have also spoken to others who had no side effects and several who have had mild to moderate soreness at the injection site, which was gone in one to two days. According to Kari McPherson, vice president of Human Resources for Community Memorial Hospital, of the first 2,456 hospital employees and medical staff vaccinated, fewer than 10 reported symptoms more significant than mild nausea, fatigue or injection-site soreness. All were able to resume their normal work schedules quickly, and no one reported an anaphylactic reaction.
All of us involved in your health care share the common goal of making the vaccine available to all of you as soon and as conveniently as possible. The anticipated approval of one or more additional vaccines in the coming months will help. I encourage you to keep well informed regarding the progress of this vaccination program through the county government website,
Stay committed, stay optimistic, stay safe and stay well.


— Dr. Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician who writes a weekly column on COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News.

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