With local hospitals overwhelmed by the recent surge in COVID-19 patients, officials hope to vaccinate a third of Los Angeles County’s front-line medical workers by the end of this month.
Kicked off Friday, the massive effort aims to vaccinate 6,000 health workers before Christmas and 10,000 by New Year’s Eve, according to Dr. Paul Giboney, associate chief medical officer for the county’s Department of Health Services.
“The scope and scale of what we’re doing is unparalleled,” said Giboney, who’s in charge of the county’s vaccine distribution. “It’s been quick. It’s been efficient. And most of all, it’s been critically important for the safety of our health care workforce and for the safety of our patients.”
The push comes as the region’s hospitals experience their largest surge of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.
Officials warned Friday that hospitals may soon be unable to provide basic emergency care as they face staffing shortages, overflowing treatment areas, shrinking intensive care capacity and struggle to find space for patients arriving by ambulance.
“We can’t respond to the rapidly growing need or overcome the resounding challenges if our workforce doesn’t stay healthy,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county’s health services department, said in a statement.
The medical workforce vaccination effort began early Friday morning at three acute care hospitals: the LAC + USC Medical Center, Olive-View UCLA Medical Center and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Officials say the county’s acute care hospitals have faced the brunt of the current COVID-19 surge, since they mostly treat low-income patients and people of color — two groups who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Ana De Leon, an emergency room nurse at the LAC + USC hospital, said she felt “blessed” to be among the first staffers to get the shot Friday.
“I’m getting this vaccine for my family, who I haven’t been able to see because in the emergency room, and it’s very difficult to go home and not know if you caught the virus that day or not,” she said.
The county expected to have 1,500 medical professionals vaccinated by the end of the day Friday. The next Pfizer vaccine shipment, slated to arrive over the next few days, should have enough doses to vaccinate another 4,000 workers, Giboney said.
But with doses still limited, L.A. County officials are following federal and state guidance in first vaccinating staff in ICUs and emergency departments, as well as those at higher risk due to their age or underlying health conditions. After that, workers who care directly for patients in other hospital areas will be next in line.
The county will likely receive its first shipment of the newly approved Moderna vaccine next week. Those doses will be used in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, while acute care hospitals that have the ultra-cold freezers will continue to receive the Pfizer vaccine, Giboney said. That’s because the Moderna shots don’t have the same cold-storage requirements as the Pfizer ones.
“While these vaccines provide hope, it should not be taken as a reason to not wear masks or stay home. It is still critical,” Giboney said. “We know what it takes to limit the spread of COVID-19 and we need to do those things.”
It’s not yet clear either vaccine prevents symptomless virus spread, or how long protection from the disease lasts. Plus, vaccine availability isn’t expected to be widespread in L.A. County until well into next year.
Meanwhile, the county continues to report shocking daily increases in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. Officials have reported more than 71,000 new infections since Monday, with in excess of 16,500 on Friday alone.