Survey data will shape local vaccine plan

Personnel with the Imperial County Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Services began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations on Dec. 22. COURTESY PHOTO

EL CENTRO — More than 5,000 persons responded to an online Imperial County Public Health Department survey intended to measure public perceptions and preferences regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

The survey opened Dec. 8 and concluded Dec. 22.

“We had an excellent response,” County Health Director Janette Angulo said Wednesday at the county’s weekly media briefing.

The online survey consisted of 15 questions available in English or Spanish. The questions focused on COVID-19 vaccine beliefs, transportation, preferred vaccination sites and time preference to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Angulo said the health department intends to use the information collected in designing its vaccination plan for the county.

The county received 975 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17 and 1,200 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 on Dec. 22. Both vaccines have been authorized for emergency use through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Doses of the Pfizer vaccine began to be administered to a handful of Imperial County Public Health Department personnel on Dec. 18 under Phase 1A of the state’s vaccine allocation plan. Phase 1A prioritizes persons at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 through their work in any role in direct healthcare or long-term care settings, as well as residents of skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and similar long-term care settings for older or medically vulnerable individuals.

Widespread vaccination of the general population is expected to be some months away. In the meantime, the health department is at work developing a plan to ensure its vaccination program will be successful.

Angulo said the two biggest concerns in developing that plan are reaching vulnerable populations and ensuring convenient access to the public. These concerns were reflected in the survey.

Because the survey had only recently closed and data was still being compiled and analyzed, she said there no conclusions to be shared as of Wednesday.

“The team is working on getting some preliminary survey findings together,” she said.

The survey also included such questions as:

  • “When a COVID-19 vaccine is available, I plan to be vaccinated.”
  • “I am confident that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe.”
  • “The COVID-19 disease is not serious enough that I need to get the vaccine.”
  • “I get vaccinated because I can also protect other people from getting infected.”

County Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday said even before the survey was conducted a lot of work was already underway to ensure the science of the vaccines was widely shared and to let the public know they are safe and effective.

El Centro Regional Medical Center CEO Dr. Adolphe Edward was among those vaccinated Dec. 21. He acknowledged there was some pain involved, saying at Wednesday’s press conference that it felt like someone had “hurt my arm very badly with a hammer.” He added: “Otherwise, I feel great.”

Both Edward and Pioneer Memorial Healthcare District CEO Larry Lewis said response to the vaccine has been positive.

“The reaction has been good,” Lewis said.

As of Sunday, the Imperial County Public Health Department’s dashboard reported 1,870 active COVID-19 cases with 205 hospitalizations. There were 42 COVID patients in intensive care.

Since the start of the pandemic in March, there have been 21,241 confirmed local cases and 406 deaths attributed to the disease. The vast majority of those deaths, 385, have been persons older than 50. No one younger than 20 has died from the disease locally.

The peak distribution of positive cases in Imperial County is among persons in the 20-to-29 and 30-to-39 age brackets, with 3,896 and 3,986 cases, respectively. However, those two age groups account for only eight deaths. By comparison, the 60-to-69 and 70-to-79 brackets, with 2,134 and 1,063 cases, respectively, have accounted for 192 COVID deaths in the county.

State officials estimate vaccines for the general public could be available as early as spring 2021.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. mRNA vaccines are a new type of protection against infectious diseases, according to the CDPH website. While many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated virus in the body to trigger an immune response, an mRNA vaccine teaches cells how to make a protein — or part of a protein — that triggers an immune response in the body.

The vaccines are administered in two doses about three weeks apart. Both vaccines have performed well in initial trials — each posting about a 95 percent effective rate.

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