EL CENTRO — The county is expected to receive 2,175 doses of COVID-19 vaccine before month’s end.
That announcement was made Thursday during a joint press conference involving county officials and the CEOs of both El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District.
County Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday said the county expects to receive 975 doses from Pfizer to be distributed in less than a week if the Federal Drug and Administration as expected signs off on it.
Public Health Director Janette Angulo said the county would also receive 1,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of the month once approved.
Emergency use authorization (EUA) was given to Pfizer by the FDA’s Center for Biological Evaluation and Research Advisory Committee Thursday afternoon by a 17-4 vote.
The Moderna vaccine has also applied for an EUA, and the committee will be meeting soon to vote for its approval.
Angulo said the state of California in Phase 1 will receive 327,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. Administration of the doses is expected to begin Dec. 16 to 18 for healthcare workers and long-term care residents.
Asked about the limited supply of the vaccine and that most people will have to wait months for the shots, Munday said health department at this point will take any good news.
Munday said because of the limited supply, the department looked at where it would have the greatest impact and chose healthcare as the first to get the vaccine.
“By keeping healthcare workers healthy they will be available to help (patients),” he said. “It’s fewer doses than what we would have liked to have.”
Munday also said the hospitals and others have worked with the health department for some time to get the vaccine into the arms of people as soon as it arrives. The hospitals have freezers that can keep Pfizer vaccine at the extreme low temperatures required to store it.
The Moderna vaccine could be stored in the temperatures of a typical freezer.
“The bottom line is (the planning) has been taking place for months,” Munday said.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the county, hospitals announced at Thursday’s press conference how close they are to reaching capacity.
While the number of beds in use change frequently, El Centro Regional CEO Adolph Edwards said ECRMC had 10 beds available, though its last ICU bed was filled while he spoke at the press conference.
PMHD CEO Larry Lewis said Pioneers has 74 patients, 34 of whom are COVID-19 positive.
With expansion, he said, his hospital could add 10 more beds.
Edwards said of the 152 patients at ECRMC, 93 are COVID positive, in which 23 are in the ICU.
A 35-member disaster team from the state is coming to help.
“We are moving staff around,” he said. “We are looking to reallocate some staff.”
County CEO Tony Rouhotas Jr. thanked the agencies for the collaboration they have shown, adding this is how the county will get through this second surge.
“We will do whatever we can to make it through this,” he said.
More patients are being transferred to out-of-county hospitals, but Munday pointed out that is a common practice when patients need advanced medical care the county cannot provide.
“What is different is the sheer volume,” he said.
He also said while there are more cases now than during the surge in the summer, there have been lessons learned to do things better.
When asked what would happen if the hospitals were overrun, Munday said they do not want to get there and urged the public to adhere to all of the safety measures and stay-at-home order.
If it were to happen, though, not everyone who needs medical care would be able to receive it, he said.
According to the state figures released Tuesday, the adjusted numbers per 100,000 residents is 40.96 while the percentage of those testing positive was at 20.3 percent.
Angulo said the ICU availability for the Southern California region is now at 9.9 percent.
She said after three weeks of the stay-at-home order, if the ICU capacity in the region improves to more than 15 percent, the order could be lifted, but if the availability doesn’t exceed that percentage the order will continue.