Kern prepping for Covid-19 vaccine rollout as early as this month

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FILE – In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, a researcher in a laboratory at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, England, works on the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously — and they stress cautiously — optimistic that life may start returning to normal by early April. Even before regulators have approved a single vaccine, the U.K. and countries across Europe are moving quickly to organize the distribution and delivery systems needed to inoculate millions of citizens. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP, File)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Major pharmaceutical companies are producing Covid-19 vaccines that have far greater effectiveness in trials than the typical flu vaccine — and they’re doing so with unexpected speed.

Now, as vaccine production ratchets up, there’s increasing focus on the distribution, storage and actual dispensing of the vaccine.

So it’s not too early for you to ask — how, where and when might you get your vaccination?

Only a few weeks ago, pharmaceutical companies working on a Covid-19 vaccine were telling Americans not to expect anything for many months — the end of 2021 or even later. We shouldn’t start rolling up our sleeves just yet, but things are moving forward faster than anyone really expected.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says California will receive 327,000 Covid-19 vaccines in the next two weeks, with a second dose to arrive three weeks after that. The Newsom administration says it will reveal a first-phase distribution plan later this week. And Goldman Sachs economists — who have a lot riding on their forecasts — expect half of the population of the U.S. and Canada to be vaccinated by the end of April.

But for that to happen, local health departments will have to be prepared for logistical challenges for likes of which, it seems fair to say, none have encountered before in terms of volume, pace and, in one case, sub-freezing storage requirements.

Despite all that, Matt Constantine, whose Kern County Department of Public Health is delivering a detailed vaccine rollout plan to the state Tuesday, as required, says extraordinary steps have been taken to ensure the vaccine’s safety.

“Let’s remember that the FDA is reviewing this vaccine as they do every other vaccine, and what was unique in this case is the federal government accepts some of the risk by allowing the manufacturers to produce this in mass quantities before it received FDA approval,” Constantine said. “If the FDA does not approve it, that vaccine is destroyed and is no longer used, and that was a risk that we as taxpayers and the federal government inherited.

“If it is approved, though, it is ready to go immediately. And it would only be approved under that emergency use if it is safe and effective. We believe that that’s going to help, and, I think over time, many more people will become open to receiving the vaccine.”

The plan Kern Public Health will submit to the state Tuesday has at least one unique aspect.

It “talks about a lot of the internal processes, but this one’s a little different because they’re asking providers local providers to pre-register and get approved by the state,” Constantine said. “The concept is we’re going to use the existing infrastructure of a lot of our healthcare providers and doctors to help administer vaccine. Which is great.”

Constantine is optimistic that federal, state and local government can bring this pandemic to a satisfactory close, with vaccines available to vital workers as early as this coming month, but care and patience will still be required.

“It’s still probably several months away for the rest of us to have access, but it’s moving along,” he said.

Polls over the past several weeks suggest that a quarter of Americans will opt out on the vaccine — not altogether surprising considering only 63 percent were vaccinated against the seasonal flu last year, which is actually an improvement over past years. But here’s the thing. The efficacy rate of most seasonal flu vaccines is an unremarkable 40 to 60 percent.

The efficacy rate of the four distinct covid-19 vaccines produced thus far is in the 90 percent range.

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