Covid-19, novel coronavirus 2019
Novel Coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) (CDC Image)

MONTEREY COUNTY — Monterey County officials expect the first allocations of Covid-19 vaccines to be in limited supply, and will target health care professionals in the first round of vaccinations.

Monterey County Health Officer Dr. Edward Moreno spoke about the county’s planning process during a Nov. 27 press briefing, in which he said the earliest vaccine rounds may come as early as mid-December, pending meetings between pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We do know that the amount of Covid vaccine that’s coming out is going to be very limited quantities,” Moreno said. “When that’s approved, each state will receive its allocation from the federal government. The state will be working with local health departments and other health care facilities to distribute those allocations to agencies.”

Moreno explained the county is implementing a plan based on flu vaccine practices, including coming up with target populations to serve on a needs priority basis.

“Health care providers are going to be one of the groups that’s prioritized with the initial vaccines because it’s important to make sure we have health care providers to work at the bedside to take care of people with Covid,” he said. “We are also planning on working with some of our traditional partners for preparing to vaccinate other populations once more vaccine is made available.”

The expanding list of priority needs includes first responders. Afterward, the county would focus on high-risk groups before eventually making the vaccine available to the general population.

The preparation announcement comes as Monterey County infection rates continue to rise. The latest state data shows the county’s adjusted case rate increased from 16 to now 18.7, and the testing positivity rate went from 7.3 to 7.8. Both those numbers put Monterey County further from meeting the thresholds to move into a less restrictive tier in the state’s reopening blueprint.

“The number of cases are going up,” Moreno said. “As our hospitals are sharing with us, the bed census is also rising. The hospitals continue to implement parts of their surge plans in order to accommodate more patients with Covid-19.”

Local hospitals are not only planning on dealing with increased numbers of Covid-19 patients, but also planning for the incoming vaccines.

Moreno said every hospital in California is invited to sign up for the new Covid Ready portal system to receive distributions of Covid-19 vaccines. There, hospitals go over requirements, including how they can vaccinate target populations in a timely manner. The county is already preparing for initial shipments.

“We do have an order in for a low temperature freezer storage unit here at our health department so that any allocations that are sent to Monterey County, particularly our health department, will meet Pfizer’s requirement of ultra-low temperatures,” Moreno said.

He added, “The state has certain working groups to look into vaccine safety, and also looking at making sure any issues regarding disparities is somehow incorporated into the planning for distributing Covid vaccine here in California.”

Meanwhile, the county’s data on transmission is being used to remind residents to continue practicing safety guidelines.

“We find as we still have, the household as the most common area individuals are exposed,” Moreno said. “Household transmission is the primary location of transmission here in Monterey County.”

Moreno gave an example of a person who tests positive for Covid-19 and then county contact tracing finds other people living in the same household soon become infected, even when the only other people they had contact with were primarily inside the house.

“Certainly ag workers are out and providing an important service in the ag industry,” Moreno said. “Most of them do what they can to try to limit exposures and create environments where there’s less transmission, but because they’ve been working all along, they are at increased risk of exposure and they can bring Covid-19 back into the home.”

Stemming transmission is key to fighting the virus.

“It’s transmission of the virus that’s leading to more cases and increasing our case rate and resulting in more people requiring hospitalization,” Moreno said.

Moreno reminded that strategies of social distancing at 6 feet, wearing face coverings, not traveling and limiting exposure to groups continues to be the best set of strategies at the individual level. He also reminded residents to remain respectful of businesses that are doing what they can to follow state guidance and prevent transmission.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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