First vaccines expected in mid-December

Initial shots for front-line workers

Small numbers of North Olympic Peninsula medical personnel may be able to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting in mid-December.

Initial roll-outs of the two-dose vaccine from Pfizer are expected to begin next month, but initial supplies will be low. Vaccine is not expected to be available to the general public until at least April.

Meanwhile, Clallam County confirmed 16 new cases of the virus Thursday stemming from members of large households catching it from prior confirmed cases and through community transmission, said Dr. Allison Unthank, county health officer.

Jefferson County reported no new cases Thursday.

Pfizer has submitted its vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration, whose committee will meet Dec. 10 to review the application for emergency use authorization (EUA), according to a press release from the state Department of Health.

If the EUA is approved, the western states’ Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will meet to provide a further level of expert evaluations of the data, which is expected to take one to two days.

During that time, the vaccine will be processed and shipped so as to avoid delaying its arrival in Washington, the press release said.

Upon initial delivery, the state is estimated to receive 62,400 doses, with a total of about 200,000 doses expected by the end of the year, the press release said.

The first eligible people to receive the vaccine will be high-risk health care workers, as part of Phase 1 of the four-phase distribution plan, the state said.

The amount of vaccine is expected to improve over the coming months as other vaccines, such as Maderna’s, also gain approval.

The vaccine is shipped in units that each can serve 975 people.

Unthank expects one to two units of the vaccine initially for Clallam, while Locke expects one for Jefferson.

The vaccine has to be used within 20 days and must be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit, which Peninsula providers say will be possible in limited quantities.

“We’ve been working very actively on that,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer. “We’re focusing on the Phase 1 list, because we think that certainly we won’t get beyond the phase 1 list in December.

“I don’t think we’ll even have enough for the highest priority, which is known as Phase 1a, which is the frontline health care providers and first responders.”

Unthank agreed with Locke.

“We have been able to access enough freezer space locally to vaccinate all of our health care workers,” Unthank said. “We don’t anticipate that we’re going to get enough to vaccinate all of our health care workers in that first round.

“Most likely we can see vaccines starting to be available in December and completing vaccinations of health care workers likely in January.”

The Pfizer vaccine is given in two doses about three weeks apart, Locke said.

“Each batch you get, you have to make sure you give everyone two doses, so we can’t over-commit the vaccine,” he said. “So it’s going to be a logistically challenging thing to do, but we’re confident that we can do it.

“This is what the health care system and the public health system does. We have long experience doing vaccinations.

According to Locke, while a specific timeline through the different phases depends on the amount of vaccine produced, and each phase may have sub-phases, the rough outline of the priorities set by the federal and state governments is:

• Phase 1: Health care workers, first responders and high-risk communities.

• Phase 2: Teachers, workers in high-risk settings such as long-term care facilities and people with moderate-risk conditions.

• Phase 3: Critical workers.

• Phase 4: General population.

It is estimated and hoped that Phase 4 vaccinations can begin in April and the specific members of each phase will be announced as communities enter each phase/sub-phase, Locke and Unthank said.

Vaccinations are only with consent; no one will be forcibly vaccinated, said Locke and Unthank.

Clallam County has confirmed 472 cases since March, with 186 confirmed during November. There are 137 active cases, three of whom are hospitalized, and the county has reported two deaths, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Clallam County’s case rate as of Thursday is 221 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, Unthank said.

Jefferson County has confirmed 152 cases since March, with 64 during November. There are 25 active cases, two of whom are hospitalized, and one death, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Jefferson County’s case rate is about 157 per 100,000 for the past two weeks, Locke said.

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Jefferson County Reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].

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