Yesterday, the state ordered a pause on a batch of Moderna vaccine that had caused a high number of adverse reactions at an event in Southern California; that batch happened to account for 90 percent of the vaccine that Humboldt County has on hand.
Today, Dr. Ian Hoffman, Humboldt County health officer, addressed the community about this, as well as what he knows about certain variants of the virus that have been identified, one of which has been found here in Humboldt. These two topics were the subject of most of today’s media questions, as well.
Video above, rough transcript below.
Good afternoon Dr. Hoffman, thank you for joining us for the January 19 media availability. Would you like to start by addressing the community?
Yes, thank you. It was a news-packed weekend. We heard of two things that will impact the COVID response in Humboldt County, this weekend. First and foremost, over the weekend in San Diego at a mass-vaccination event there were a higher number than expected adverse events. Upwards of ten people had severe allergic reactions at that event. Due to that, the state has decided to pause a large lot of Moderna vaccine which was 330,000 doses in the state of California. Locally, we’ve been impacted by that as we had 4,100 of those doses in our freezers scheduled to go out in arms this week, as well as next week. And some had already gone into arms here in Humboldt County.
We are trying our best to try to come up with solutions to have this not slow down the effort. We worked with a lot of our partners over the weekend to make sure that all of our clinics that are already scheduled can continue to go forward. There were some clinics that had not been scheduled yet that will likely be cancelled due to this unless we hear of other news. I think that this affects our 75 and older group the most because they were the next up to start vaccinating this week. We are continuing to work through the remainder of the phase 1A healthcare workers who are out there. And we have not had to cancel any of those appointments. This also will affect some - many second doses of Moderna for people who got their first dose four weeks ago.
The other news that we heard over the weekend was about the variant that was found in multiple counties across the state of California. We know very little about this variant. We know that it was involved in one large cluster in an emergency room at Kaiser in Santa Clara, California.
And we know that one person here in Humboldt County had that sequencing come back in a random sequencing where they were doing surveillance for different types of variants. We know very little other than that. We will continue to try and find out information in the coming days and update the community when we know more on both of these things.
Lastly, I want to just make sure that we put out some information about the 75 and older group that is going to be impacted the most. We want to find out who these folks are who might not be able to get it from their primary care doctor. We recognize that not every primary care doctor in Humboldt County is authorized to give COVID vaccine. So, we will be putting out in the coming days an interest form for anyone who is not being contacted by their primary care provider who is a vaccinator so we can gather that information and get you information about how we can get you into a vaccine in the coming weeks.
From the North Coast News: With a lot of the Moderna vaccine sitting on the shelf for the time being, what does this mean for people who already got their first dose and are waiting for another dose of the Moderna vaccine? Are you aware of anyone in Humboldt County that will not get their second dose on time? How many?
As I mentioned, there were many of those who were scheduled for second doses - 1,900 of them of the 4,100 were second doses. So I’ve asked all of those to be paused for now until we can figure out what to do. We have instructed not to pause any first doses from other lots that were slated for first doses. So those will continue this week.
From the Redwood News: With the County pausing the administration of the single lot of Moderna vaccines, how will the County’s vaccination plan be impacted? How is the pause going to impact the start of phase 1B? Will the timeline for vaccinations locally be delayed or shifted back at all?
Yes. There will be delays due to this. It is a large majority of the vaccine that was supposed to go out this week. We are trying to find local and state replacements, but it’s going to delay specifically the rollout to the 75 year and older that was planned to start this week.
From the Redwood News: You mentioned that the lot of Moderna vaccines made up as much as 90-percent of the doses the County has on hand. Exactly how many doses is that? How many of them were first doses? Second doses? Is there any plan to receive replacement doses in the meantime? What’s the next step?
So, as I mentioned, about 4,100 of those doses are affected by the pause. 1,900 of them were second doses, slated to be second doses and 2,200 were slated to be first doses. We had been instructed to use as many as 50% of our second doses as first doses. So that also impacts the first doses we had planned to give out this week. The next steps, again we’re working with our partners to try to see if there is any vaccine that we can use up this week to make sure we don’t have to cancel any clinics. We’ve asked for help from the state, but this is affecting a lot of counties across the state - it’s 330,000 doses statewide. So, the next steps if we get approval to use the vaccine, we will immediately start using it again, or if we get replacement, we can open up some appointments that we had planned on. We do not plan to cancel any appointments that have already been scheduled for this week though.
From the Redwood News: Are you able to give us a number of how many people are impacted by the pause this week? I.e., have any vaccination appointments been cancelled or postponed this week? Are you planning on needing to cancel or reschedule anything?
Yeah, none cancelled. Probably a thousand or more delayed.
From the Lost Coast Outpost: Have public health officials identified exactly what was in this particular lot that may have triggered the allergic reactions?
No, we do not know.
From the Lost Coast Outpost: Will the pause in administering shots from this lot cause delays for local residents waiting to receive their second doses? If so, will that affect the efficacy of the vaccine?
It will absolutely delay second doses and that should not change the efficacy of the vaccine at all.
From the Times-Standard: Has Public Health effectively halted vaccine administration or are the 10% of vaccines that are still considered viable being administered? How long would it take to deplete that 10%?
So, we are using every available dose this week in Humboldt County. We will not have to cancel any clinics, but expansion is greatly reduced and I expect that we will have very little on hand at the end of this week. So next week’s plans are very much up in the air.
From the Times-Standard: When are the next batch of vaccines expected to be received?
We’re getting new vaccine today. Some of those are Moderna, we don’t know what lot they are. They might be the same lot. We’re also getting second doses of Pfizer today, which are already slated to go into arms for the match of people who got those three weeks ago.
From the Times-Standard: Did the state or CDC provide a timeline explaining when they should wrap up their investigation of the potentially problematic Moderna batch?
I was just on a call this morning with the state and we did not hear anything about a timeline for a resolution of this.
From the North Coast News: Is it safe to assume that the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Granada Rehabilitation and Wellness Center is over? Are there active cases of the virus within that center?
Yes, that case is closed and we are not seeing any new active cases there, thankfully.
From the Times-Standard: Can you reiterate how people 75 and older who are interested in receiving the vaccine can get one? Through their primary care provider or contacting Public Health?
Yes, so if you have a provider who is one of the approved COVID vaccine vaccinators, you will be contacted by them on how you can schedule an appointment. A lot of these - there is still a very limited number, so a lot of these providers who are working through their list are trying to start with those at highest risk like the oldest population, or people with high-risk conditions who are over 75. They are actively working on that, but there is a small number of vaccines, and a small number of appointments. Obviously, everyone in those practices will not be able to get immediate appointments, so wait for outreach from them if your doctor is an approved vaccine provider.
As I mentioned in the upfront, Public Health we’re working on a way to gather information on those who do not have a provider who is an approved vaccinator. We recognize there are many smaller practices, there are people who don’t have insurance, or maybe they have a doctor outside of Humboldt County. So that interest form is going to go live in the coming days and we will put out media once that is up and running. So those are the two primary ways that you are going to be able to get into an appointment if you are over 75.
From the Times-Standard: How is the virus spreading in the community right now from Public Health’s perspective? Is the situation worsening, improving or stable?
So it continues to spread in the same way we’ve seen. It’s spreading through close contacts, through gatherings and through travel.
From the North Coast News: The CDPH is saying that a new variant of COVID-19 has been identified in Humboldt County. How serious of a development is this for the community, and how long has Humboldt Public Health known about its prevalence here? Is the county aware of other potentially more contagious variants in the county currently?
So we were alerted to this yesterday. We do not know the significance of this variant and we do not know of any other highly contagious variants that have been found in Humboldt County.
From the Two Rivers Tribune: With Humboldt County at the highest level of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy table, what more can be done to protect communities from the 452R variant strain, as it is believed to be a super-spreader?
I think it’s a little early to make assumptions about the variant and what it means. When evidence is there, if this is a more highly contagious variant, we will have to have the discussion about what kinds of efforts need to be in place to slow the spread of this. I will also add, nothing changes about the things that we have been asking. We continue to - even with these highly contagious variants like the one from U.K. - things like masking, distancing, avoiding gatherings, those are the things that will continue to slow the spread of that virus, as well as the other variants that we’ve seen throughout this pandemic.
From Reporter Daniel Mintz: The CDC has announced a finding that the B.1.1.7. or UK variant is growing exponentially and could be the predominant strain in the U.S. By March. What are the implications of this for coronavirus spread and vaccine effectiveness, and what kind of local planning is underway for response?
So we don’t know of any impact on vaccine efficacy, we have not heard that there is an effect on the efficacy of the vaccine. So we continue to plan vaccination events with that in mind. Other than that, nothing else changes about the measures we take to slow the spread of this variant.
From Reporter Daniel Mintz: The CDPH has announced that the L452R variant, which has caused several large outbreaks in Santa Clara county, is becoming more prevalent and has been identified in Humboldt. At a January 17 CDPH press briefing, the virologist who conducted genome sequencing on the strain expressed concerns about its potential for increased transmissibility and vaccine resistance. What kind of information has county public health been given on this variant?
We know mostly what is out in the media. We were alerted to it yesterday. I only know of one outbreak in Santa Clara at the Kaiser ER from the Christmas costume event, otherwise, we have not heard of any other outbreaks with this. Info is coming out on it, hopefully more today and we will continue to let people know whatever we know.
From Reporter Daniel Mintz: How long did it take between the time Humboldt’s L452R samples were submitted for genome sequencing and the results? Is there any indication of the degree to which L452R is present in the county?
These were from samples that were part of a surveillance project, so we’re not specifically asking for this variant. The state virologist were searching to see how far back the variant went. It’s my understanding they found these samples as far back as September, throughout the state. And the one found in Humboldt County was from November and was only one single sample that has been found so far. Others, many other samples have been looked at and if we find out there are more of them, we’ll let you know. We have submitted samples recently to the state to look for other variants and I assume they will also be looking for this variant. So when we hear back from the state on those samples, we’ll update.
From the Redheaded Blackbelt: In regard to the variant from the UK (which is found in Southern California currently), can you explain the reasons for it being more highly transmissible, and exactly why it is capable of passing from person to person more easily?
I think that is still very much under study and even the amount of transmissibility is still being debated. I think what we can say is it is more contagious than other variants, but not sure yet exactly how much more or how that happens.
From the Redheaded Blackbelt: What do you know about the Covid-19 variant that has been detected in Humboldt County, as far as symptomatology as well as transmissibility? How does this compare to or differ from the COVID-19 that we have been experiencing so far?
So the new variant we know very little about. I think from just knowing about the other variants, symptomatology should be the same. The UK variant doesn’t show any worse outcomes, it’s just more transmissible. So I would expect that potentially, if this variant is found to be anything, it might be more transmissible than others, but we don’t suspect that it’s causing any worse disease.
From the Times-Standard: Can you provide some statistics about the L452R variant in Humboldt County: Number of local cases found? The percentage found in local cases? Is it linked to any local deaths?
So, one case and no, there was no death involved in that case.
From the Times-Standard: Can you talk about how the L452R variant might impact vaccine efficacy and whether the vaccine protects against the variant?
We have no evidence at this time that any variants are affecting vaccine efficacy.