Nearly 100,000 residents and workers in El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, and Washoe counties have received vaccination against the novel coronavirus.
While ongoing struggles exist, such as allergy-ridden batches and a gaping hole between supply and demand, people are, slowly but surely, receiving the vaccine, including local healthcare workers and educators.
Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are the options being used locally. To date, the counties have administered the below numbers of inoculations, followed by 2019 census populations:
- El Dorado: 17,701 (192,843)
- Nevada: 8,337 (99,755)
- Placer: 48,366 (398,329)
- Washoe: 23,677 (471,519)
As of today, per the CDC the state of Nevada has received 417,875 vaccines and administered 279,471, while California sits at 6,343,925 and 3,671,316, respectively. Putting those numbers in perspective based on state populations, Nevada has obtained enough doses to cover 13.57% of its 3.08 million 2019 census population; California, enough to cover 16.06% of its 39.51 million inhabitants.
The California Department of Public Health is releasing a statewide vaccine-scheduling platform called My Turn. The platform, piloted in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, is expected to open up to more counties this week.
Stairway to Tahoe
The path of vaccines from the national level down to the arms of locals can pass through multiple avenues.
- The U.S. government directs the distributors on where to deliver the doses across the country. Each week, the federal administration shares the anticipated number of vaccine allocations for each state. Local providers place requests to their state, which are reviewed and then submitted to the feds. This request goes from the federal government to the manufacturers, who then ship the vials directly to the local providers.
- McKesson Corporation is the centralized distributor of the Moderna vaccine, and has partnered with FedEx and UPS to deliver the supply kits. (McKesson also sent out preliminary supplies needed to administer the inoculations, for both Moderna and Pfizer.)
- The Pfizer vaccine is shipped out from the company’s Michigan facility and Wisconsin distribution center, as frozen vials directly to the points of vaccination. Pfizer, too, is utilizing FedEx and UPS for U.S. shipping.
- Three different channels receive the direct shipments:
- Pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens)
- Indian health services
- State entities like multi-county operators (ex: Dignity Health) or county public health departments
- From there, the channels make the vaccine available to eligible groups for local administration. Nevada and Placer counties, for example, are providing Tahoe Forest Health System its allocation of doses.
The three California counties covered by Moonshine Ink all have similar distribution plans to vaccinate their populations, and are following the state’s guidelines for a phased and tiered approach. El Dorado, Nevada, and Placer each sit in phase 1B, tier one, meaning residents 65 and older and those in education, childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture sectors are eligible.
Phase 1A addressed healthcare workers and long-term care facility staff, and some in this group are still being inoculated.
El Dorado County
The bulk of 1A residents (critical healthcare workers and those over 75) were vaccinated the week of Jan. 18.
The exit of El Dorado’s phase one is expected during the summer, when the second phase will address those at moderate risk. Guidance is still being developed on a statewide scale for this second phase. The county is hopeful that all El Dorado residents who want to be vaccinated will be able to by summer’s end.
After California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan asked providers to pause distribution of Moderna’s lot 41L20A due to allergic reactions, El Dorado County officials shared with the Tahoe Daily Tribune that 1,000 vaccines from that batch had been received and 390 distributed to local clinics and pharmacies. No adverse effects had been reported, but the remaining doses in the batch were pulled.
Nevada County is asking that those in phase 1A (healthcare workers, laboratory workers, etc.) who have not been vaccinated should fill out this form. Phase 1B accounts for about 32,000 Nevada County residents and workers while phase 1A covered roughly 6,000.
“We’re given a certain allocation [of vaccines] from the state because of the limited supply at the federal level,” explained Ryan Gruver, Nevada County’s director of health and human services, in a town hall event on Jan. 28, “and we draw down every dose that’s available to us, so there’s not an option to get more.”
The county obtained 1,775 new doses this week, adding to the 8,850 received previously.
Taylor Wolfe, Nevada County’s public information officer, said that vaccinations thus far have been mostly through employer-based events and via providers calling their most vulnerable patients.
“Once the My Turn system is out of its pilot phase and vaccine availability increases, this system will be how residents can sign up to be notified when they are eligible for the vaccine and appointments have become available,” Wolfe wrote in an email. “Residents can sign up at myturn.ca.gov for Nevada County right now. This will allow people both to be notified when they’re eligible, and to receive notice of appointments once they are available.”
Martha Waters, a registered nurse at Tahoe Forest Hospital and St. Mary’s in Reno, received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 19; her second dose, Jan. 9. Waters told Moonshine the vaccine was administered at her Truckee workplace, in the conference room. After filling out a bit of paperwork upon her scheduled arrival, Waters got her shot and then waited for 15 minutes to see if any allergic reactions might appear.
“Everything went smooth for the most part,” she said. “The first reaction, the first immunization. I always get a sore arm with any flu shot, any immunization, and that’s all I got with the first one. Then the second one, I had to work right after I got the shot. That morning I definitely felt achy: my joints were achy and I had a slight headache. I took some Tylenol and went to bed and felt fine when I woke up.”
Waters mentioned she hasn’t heard of any bad reactions outside of joint pain and headaches from those she knows who’ve been vaccinated — the worst was someone who ended up sleeping off the vaccine’s effects for 12 hours straight.
The excitement around receiving the vaccine in Waters’ circle of friends doesn’t mean people are easing up in wearing personal protective equipment and physically distancing themselves.
“The excitement is there that the vaccine is out and they’re rolling out as fast as they can, but it’s never fast enough,” Waters said. “The news of more virulent strains coming out kind of puts on the ‘All right, it’s not over yet.’ We still do our part and we still have to be diligent so that these vaccines actually work.”
Hospital administration informed Moonshine that 65% of its staff has opted in to become inoculated to-date. The process to complete vaccination of TFHS employees ends Feb. 5.
Dr. Scott Kellermann, Nevada County public health officer, recently shared his own views on the county’s vaccine rollout, as well as what’s to come.
Dr. Rob Oldham didn’t hold back at the Jan. 26 board of supervisors meeting.
“It should be clear to all that we are experiencing a vaccine gap,” he said, “meaning our current capacity to administer vaccines far exceeds our supply. On average, Placer is receiving about 4,300 doses per week from the state, well under the 7,400 total doses that our county-run clinic at the grounds and our Safeway partners can safely administer in a week.”
Based on current partnerships of all those who could administer the vaccines, Oldham said capacity could be ramped up to perform 20,000 to 25,000 administrations per week, with room to grow.
To schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine, those who are currently eligible can find sign-up information here.
On Jan. 21, a county resident who was diagnosed positive for COVID-19 in late December received the vaccine and died some hours later.
The man, a 64-year-old healthcare worker at a Placer facility, began complaining of side effects within 10 minutes of the vaccination, causing the Placer County Sheriff’s Office to announce an investigation.
In a Jan. 30 Facebook post, the sheriff’s office stated: “Through our investigation, we have learned more details about the individual. We have learned that not only had he recently been diagnosed with COVID-19, he also had underlying health issues, and had been exhibiting symptoms of illness at the time the vaccine was administered. Clinical examination and lab results have determined the COVID-19 vaccine has been ruled out as a contributing factor in the individual’s death.”
Different from California’s tiers are Nevada’s two prioritization lanes, which are moving simultaneously through the frontline/essential workforce and the general population. In Washoe County, those who are educators or childcare workers (lane one), or those over the age of 70 (lane two). Residents 65 years and older can sign up for the waiting list.
Steve Ellsworth, professor in the science and math departments at Sierra Nevada University, received his Moderna vaccine this morning. Ellsworth and one other faculty member were first on the docket, nabbing the 8 a.m. slots (before even the school president).
“I do have a little bit of guilt that I may be getting [the vaccine] before others who need it more from a medical point of view,” Ellsworth said. “I am harboring some guilt, but for the sake of my institution and my family … I really view it as I’m a member of a population; it’s not just my personal health.”
Ellsworth said he wants to be an advocate for the vaccine, and that misinformation has been extremely frustrating for him. With a PhD in population psychology and background in public health, he’s been “on the edge of [his] seat” during the novel coronavirus’ progress.
The SNU vaccines are being administered by the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District just in time for in-person classes to begin Feb. 8. Students who’ve moved onto campus must supply a negative COVID test in advance of doing so, as do the faculty and staff teaching live classes.
Similar to California, Nevada is affected by limited vaccine supply as well: Last week, Washoe County ordered 10,000 doses through the state, and only received 6,500. Of those, about 60% went to residents over 70 and 40% to essential workers.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna two-dose vaccines are making the rounds across the country, and more options are on the horizon. Johnson and Johnson’s single-shot Janssen vaccine has been established as 66% overall in its effectiveness against COVID-19, and the company is filing for U.S. Emergency Use Authorization, with plans to ship out doses after permission is granted. Novavax, who developed a protein-based method as opposed to the other mRNA options, announced on Jan. 28 an 89.93% efficacy in a United Kingdom phase three trial and 60% efficacy in a South Africa phase two trial. Novavax has not yet been approved for use in any country.