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A medical professional from Malibu Medical Group (left) takes the temperature of a patient at a drive-through coronavirus testing center behind Malibu City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 3. Patients are scanned for symptoms before being administered tests.

If you don’t work in healthcare or are not deemed an “essential” worker, it is likely you will not be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine until perhaps the summer of 2021. That’s according to Los Angeles County Public Health Department doctors who spoke at a virtual town hall last Thursday evening, Dec. 17.

While many of the public may be jockeying for a position at the front of the line for inoculations, the shipments of vaccines and their rollouts won’t be available to the general public for months. The doctors outlined who will be prioritized.

“This will be a massive undertaking the scale of which many would argue is unprecedented given the time urgency of vaccinating millions of people in the county,” Dr. Seira Kurian, MD, the department’s medical affairs director, said. “Healthcare workers are the highest priority due to their highest risk of exposure.”

These workers fall into the county’s Phase One A of distribution, aligned with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state recommendations. Residents and workers at long-term care facilities are next in line. Phase One B will focus on essential workers, which is a broad category. This could include dentists, pharmacy employees and, according to Kurian, “could include agricultural workers, teachers, sanitation—a whole host of folks employed in critical jobs that help sustain and support our society.” More information will come soon after a task force hammers out details (they met on Dec. 19).

Phase One C is expected to focus on high risk groups including seniors and those with chronic health conditions. Plans are being developed for how individuals within these broad groupings will be prioritized.

“With high risk groups—if you include 65 years and older—in two of the conditions that place one in a high-risk group, high blood pressure and obesity, you’re talking about at least a third of overall adult population,” LA County DPH Chief Science Officer Dr. Paul Simon, MD, pointed out.

“That’s going to be part of the really hard work coming up in these next weeks,” Kurian added, “in deciding how we’re going to break out these very large groups into various categories of prioritization.”

Panel moderator Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith suggested looking at zip codes with high COVID-19 mortality rates as “an important way to respond to this pandemic and do things a little bit differently because the data show we should.”

Determining roll-out plans is the main task of scores of county employees.

“We have over 100 people on the task force assisting with plans and everyone has taken extraordinary measures to ensure these vaccines are distributed in a safe, equitable and effective way,” Kurian said. “This is a dynamic situation. We know there may be bumps along the way. At this time, I don’t have all the answers like when we will finish our first few rounds and begin to make this available to the general population. Our best estimates at this time are that the general public vaccinations will be available possibly in spring or early summer.”

The initial shipment to Los Angeles County included 82,875 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, for a county with more than 10 million residents. Two doses spaced roughly a month apart are needed per person. No doses are being stockpiled now to distribute in the coming weeks.  Much depends on how many more vaccines are approved and on their production schedules. Another vaccine, produced by pharmaceutical company Moderna, received FDA approval on Friday, Dec. 18.

Vaccines will be distributed by private and public healthcare networks. It was unlikely a private or concierge physician would be able to score vaccines for wealthy clients given the scarcity of doses at this time.

Clinics, pharmacies, doctors’ offices and all existing mechanisms for delivery will be utilized for distribution. The LA County DPH will be deploying strike teams to go into communities and provide technical support where needed to support mass vaccination such as drive-ups in order to keep distance protocols in place.

There should be no cost to get the vaccine; however, the doctors did indicate that those with health insurance will likely be billed some sort of administration fee.

To those hesitant to be inoculated Kurian assured, “We hear you and we will keep sharing the facts, date and science about the COVID-19 vaccines.”

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