California Steps Up Distribution of Vaccines

Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a face mask as he urges people to wear them to fight the spread of the coronavirus during a news conference in Rancho Cordova, Calif. on June 26. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool)

(CN) — Faced with the possibility of Covid-19 vaccine doses going to waste, California authorized health agencies Thursday to expand distribution to community health and testing site workers, public health field staff and dental clinic and pharmacy personnel.

The broader pool of workers is part of the first group the vaccine is being made available to under the state’s multi-phase plan to vaccinate all 58 of its counties, which begins with immunizing health care staff based on their level of direct or indirect exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Under the state’s first tier of Phase 1A of the plan, health care workers and both staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities were administered a dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine beginning in December.

People in Tier 1 who were also already offered Covid-19 vaccines include paramedics, EMTs, and staff at acute care hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, correctional center hospitals and dialysis centers.

Health agencies and providers have also begun immunizing people in Tier 2, which includes staff at urgent care clinics, home health agencies, outpatient treatment centers and rural health centers.

But under new guidance issued Thursday, health agencies should now move rapidly to vaccinate remaining health workers in Tiers 2 and 3, which include community health promoters, contact tracers, surgery centers and mortuaries. 

“The recommendations clarify the state’s vaccine prioritization process and that after appropriate efforts to reach highest priority groups, health departments and providers may offer doses to lower priority groups when high-priority demand subsides, or when doses are about to expire,” the California Department of Public Health said in a press release.

As of Thursday, more than 586,000 health care workers in California have received a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to state data. 

But with more than two million vaccine doses — including first and second doses — shipped to health departments and providers across the state, more than a million doses have yet to be administered. 

To further accelerate distribution, state officials also said Thursday health agencies and providers should immunize vaccinators and consider partnering with other health workers to distribute doses.

Officials didn’t specify what other health workers could partner on vaccine distribution. 

In Los Angeles County, where about one in five people getting tested for the novel coronavirus is testing positive, officials have discussed calling on retired nurses and other former health care workers to help administer vaccinations. 

The new guidance also said once demand for the vaccine has subsided from all tiers of Phase 1A, health departments should allocate doses to members of Tier 1 in Phase 1B, which includes people age 75 and older, educators, childcare workers and staff in emergency response and food service.

“They may also allocate doses on the assumption that immunization will be accepted by some but not all who are offered the vaccine, and then continue to offer vaccinations in progressive priority tiers,” the CDPH press release said.

The state had not planned to offer doses to those in tiers of Phase 1B until early February.

As of Jan. 6, health departments statewide have reported more than 73,000 positive cases among health care workers and 275 deaths.

In a statement, California Governor Gavin Newsom praised the “commitment” of those implementing vaccine distribution statewide.

“When Californians join together, our spirit of resiliency and innovation always wins. By continuing to take the precautions we need to get through this surge, and by ramping up safe and equitable vaccinations, we can and we will get through this darkest part of the tunnel to the light.”

State officials reported Wednesday an additional 36,385 cases of people infected with Covid-19, which has killed more than 28,000 Californians since the start of the pandemic.

California is also approaching 35 million total tests conducted since last March.

This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that Covid-19 tests made by the company Curative have a risk of producing false negative results.

The Curative test kit is widely used in LA County and is the only test kit used on sites operated by LA. Curative also supplies tests to Seattle and the U.S. Air Force.

In a statement, Curative founder and CEO Fred Turner said the company stands by its product and will work with the federal agency to resolve the issue.

“Regarding the FDA safety communication noting the risk of false results with the Curative SARS-CoV-2 test, we are confident in our data and we are working with the FDA closely on the matter,” Turner said. “Testing sensitivity and accuracy on behalf of our patients is at the heart of our work.”

The federal agency recommended people seek another Covid-19 test if they believe they’ve recently been given an inaccurate result by the Curative test.

In a statement Thursday, the LA County Department of Health Services said it is reviewing clinical studies of the test and that the risk of false negative results is present with any PCR test.

“All PCR tests face the similar issues in that there is no reliable way to detect early infection or late disease,” the statement said. “This means that even if you test negative, is it still important to take steps to protect yourself and complete your quarantine for the full 14-day period because you may still be infected.”

The county further added that Curative provides a limited number of kits at county-run test sites.

A spokesperson for the city of LA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FDA warning. 

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