Orange County has an order out for perhaps the most important package its hospital workers will get this December: 26 boxes containing 25,350 coronavirus vaccines.

Expected delivery date: Tuesday, Dec. 15.

Orange County’s first batch of vaccines, part of California’s initial shipment of 327,000, will go to local hospitals, as directed by state officials, to inoculate health care workers at high risk of infection, “Phase 1a” of a broader rollout to first immunize those who need it most.

The long-awaited shot, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, will arrive at the height of pandemic action: Orange County’s rate of new COVID-19 cases has never been higher and the low supply of intensive care beds among the region’s hospitals has prompted the strictest stay-at-home order since spring.

The county is receiving 25,000 doses to start with based on its proportion of health care workers, compared to the rest of the state.

In the incoming boxes is just the first of two shots needed to best protect against COVID-19, said Dr. Clayton Chau, Orange County Health Care Agency director and county health officer, who is charged with disbursing the vaccines locally.

Injections are expected to begin within two days of the county receiving its shipment, Chau said, and the logistics of properly storing, moving and protecting such important cargo already are in motion.

“As soon as we can, we want to dole it out, and (hospitals) will be able to get them to their employees,” he said.

A second dose is slated to arrive two weeks after the first – around Dec. 22 – and it must be administered three weeks after the first dose to boost effectiveness, Chau said.

And, in the interim, another vaccine from pharmaceutical company Moderna could begin to arrive in Orange County, he said.

The vaccines, packed with dry ice in containers, have to be moved and stored in freezers that get as cold as -100 degrees Fahrenheit, and once thawed, they must be used within five days or refrozen.

The county is expecting its own freezers to come this week, Chau said, but in the meantime it has borrowed freezers from two local universities, which Chau said he couldn’t name due to security reasons.

During a news conference Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said a state-level vaccine advisory committee would meet Wednesday, Dec. 8, to discuss “Phase 1b” of the vaccine rollout.

State officials are planning under the assumption California can get 2.16 million first doses by the end of the month, Newsom said.

For now, all 33 hospitals in Orange County have signed up for their share of vaccines; next up is to study how vaccines are administered to staff, Chau said.

“As a health officer, I cannot mandate people to take the COVID vaccine,” as he could for a seasonal flu shot, Chau said, because while the new vaccine has received emergency authorization it has not yet received full approval from the Food and Drug administration.

But state leaders and health experts expect Pfizer’s vaccine to cross that finish line as early as this week, Newsom said Monday.

Chau said he hopes all doctors, nurses and other hospital staff will roll up their sleeves for the long-awaited shot to protect themselves, their families and their patients.

A local vaccine task force made up of Orange County university, business, public sector and faith leaders has been convening since September to advise the Health Care Agency to ensure the local rollout goes smoothly.

Lucy Dunn, who heads the Orange County Business County and is part of the task force, said the key to getting the public onboard, particularly when some are wary of being first in line to get a brand new-vaccine, is to have trusted voices in the community get the word out about their safety and efficacy.

To that end, political and public health leaders have a big advertising campaign ahead of them, Dunn said.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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