When are we getting the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Who will get which shots? Why are some teenagers getting vaccinated now? Is COVID going to be around forever?
These questions — plus an opening statement on the possibility that Humboldt might move back into the state’s purple zone — were addressed in today’s media availability with Dr. Ian Hoffman, Humboldt County’s health officer.
Video above, rough transcript below.
Thank you for joining us for the March 2nd Media Availability with county Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman. Would you like to start by addressing the community?
Yes thank you. I want to talk a little bit about our tier status. We, as we know, we moved into the red tier last week. That tier status is updated weekly and we are watching it very closely because we have noticed that the case rate has increased over the past week and not continued to decrease like it was over the preceding weeks. You know it’s always a good reminder for us to keep in mind that there could be more cases coming down the line if we are loosening up too quickly. So just a reminder to continue to mask, distance, avoid gatherings. We also know there will be an update from the state this week on tier status and we look forward to hearing more about that and how it could affect us here in Humboldt County.
From the Redwood News: With the recent emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine, how soon can Humboldt County expect to begin receiving doses of the vaccine? How will this increase in supply impact the county’s vaccination plan? Will it move it forward any quicker?
So we know that California is getting 380,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson this week, we have not seen any allocation numbers yet for the counties. We’re hopeful we could get some of that and so certainly if we do get that it will increase our availability for appointments and the speed at which we can get people vaccinated.
From the Redwood News: Can you talk about how Public Health and other providers determine who gets what vaccine considering the J&J vaccine is only one dose versus the two doses required for Pfizer and Moderna? Is one vaccine better than the others? Will the single dose vaccines be used for any specific groups of the population? What goes into determining who gets the one dose vaccine versus a two dose vaccine?
So another example of how we’ve throughout this vaccination effort we’ve been met with many challenges, adapting to two different vaccines, now a third, different dosing schedules, you know I think from the standpoint of the efficacy of all three of these vaccines, they’re all very good vaccines from an individual and public health standpoint and I think all three of them meet a high bar and exceed what we actually could have expected from any vaccine in such a short amount of time. They all decrease death, hospitalization and severe disease at very high rates, so you know, I think that we’re going to be offering, if we get Johnson & Johnson in Humboldt County, we’ll be offering it to many different groups broadly and allowing people to decide which vaccine they want, but we always encourage people to take any vaccine that’s offered to you. I think that it’s really important to recognize that the faster we can get vaccinated, the faster we’re going to get out of this.
From the Redwood News: Looking back over the last year and living in a global pandemic what would you say Humboldt County has done right throughout it? What did we do wrong or rather what could the county have done better during the pandemic? On the flip side what does the path forward look like for Humboldt County? When do you expect we will return to some sense of normalcy?
So in the early part of the pandemic I wasn’t part of the Public Health effort and the emergency response here in Humboldt County, I was working as a provider on the you know patient care side, and so you know I saw a lot of folks early on who were getting sick and inability to get tested. You know, we saw people struggling to get the right care in the hospital situation because we just didn’t know how to even care for these folks. So that was my my experience as a provider.
I think from what I saw from the outside in Humboldt County, and now having you know several months on the inside, was that Humboldt County was doing everything right, it was you know taking all the right precautions, you know taking masking seriously, you know, taking the distancing seriously and putting measures in place around the county to reduce the spread of COVID, a robust contact tracing and investigations unit, a strong Joint Information Center to get information out to the community and keep them updated with a very fast-moving situation that changed sometimes not just day to day but hour to hour.
So I think overall the response in Humboldt County has been great and continues to be, so return to normalcy is, as we’ve talked about in the past, is a bit of a crystal ball moment, but I think we will see some more return to normalcy in the coming months if we can avoid a surge of new cases. So that’s going to be really important for us to continue on our path of maintaining the same things that we’ve been doing all along that reduce the case load. So masking, distancing, avoiding large gatherings and as we look forward to some guidance around how we might be able to gather more safely in public spaces, it’s going to be extra important for us to you know adhere to those guidelines, so that we can have some sense of normalcy without a large surge in cases.
From the Redwood News: We’re almost a full year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you talk about how Public Health’s approach to managing the pandemic has changed since last March? What have been some of the biggest challenges Public Health has had to overcome during the pandemic?
Yeah so I think that you know working among all the different partners in both the Public Health side, government, private entities, not just you know in health care but you know businesses and organizations and law enforcement, everyone had to come together to meet these complex challenges over the course of this pandemic. Communication is difficult when you’ve got so many people involved. So I think that’s been one of the biggest challenges. By far things are fast moving and knowledge changes sometimes you know, what we know one day might not be the the same as what we know the next day. So those have been some of the challenges during the pandemic.
The North Coast News: With Humboldt County now in the Red tier on the state’s reopening blueprint, could we soon expect a move into the Orange tier. What about the county’s current data led you to that conclusion?
So I’m not seeing movement to the Orange tier right now. Again the case count is going up so that’s going in the wrong direction for for us to make a move and could potentially put us back in the Purple tier if that move continues dramatically up into a Purple tier case count metric.
From the North Coast News: Monday, March 1st marked the start of California’s transition to enhanced provider vaccination network that’s designed to make COVID-19 vaccines available to all Californians. Blue Shield said providers and local health jurisdictions may choose to continue in their roles as vaccine providers by contracting with the third party administrator for performance management and by using the state’s MyTurn portal for scheduling vaccination appointments and reporting data to the TPA in the state to provide daily visibility about the network’s operation. Will this greatly impact the way Humboldt is administering COVID vaccines now? Why or why not?
Yeah I think it’s another example of some of the challenges that have faced the response effort from the beginning, not just with the vaccine but every stage along the way. This is hopefully an opportunity for us to work closely with the the state government and the third party administrator to improve access to vaccine for Humboldt County so we look forward to those discussions. We haven’t yet had the discussions here in Humboldt County, those are happening this week so we will definitely have more to report on that after our meeting with the TPA later this week.
From the North Coast News: Will the Johnson & Johnson vaccine be given in higher proportions to the rural areas of the county since it can more easily be taken there due to the temperature requirements and because those patients don’t have to travel as far to receive a second dose of it, or will all three vaccines be distributed equally throughout the county regardless of other logistical factors?
So there are many ways this vaccine will likely be used. I think it can be used in those scenarios of hard to reach areas populations that might be harder to reach, I think also some people might just prefer a single vaccine to getting, having to come back three to four weeks later for a second dose, so we’re going to offer it broadly in many different scenarios and we hope that people, when they’re offered a chance to get the vaccine, will go out and get the vaccine.
From the Redheaded Blackbelt: Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization explained that the COVID-19 vaccines will potentially need to be quote updated and periodically tailored to combat the mutations of COVID more easily, similar to with the common flu. Does this suggest to you any concern that COVID is developing into an endemic virus, like the flu?
I think that all signs do point that COVID-19 will become endemic and yes there’s a lot of talk about need for likely updates, many of those are in research trials right now with Pfizer, Moderna vaccines and there’s even a trial underway for a second dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine so I think we will see more vaccines for COVID on the horizon and likely boosters in the future, similar to the way flu is updated yearly.
From the Redheaded Blackbelt? Are you concerned that it is possible for COVID to become an endemic disease?
From the Redheaded Blackbelt: Humboldt’s new vaccine data added to the dashboard is showing a relatively small number of teenaged community members having received vaccine shots 144 between the ages of 16 to 19. Can you explain if these vaccinations were due to the type of employment of these young people or how how they fit into the tier of vaccine distribution?
Yeah I would suspect these are young folks who are working in sectors that were open to vaccination or potentially volunteers as well, that’s another possibility.
From the Times-Standard: How can residents decide which is the best vaccine for them given that many residents in Humboldt County don’t have a primary care physician due to the doctor shortage?
I think first and foremost is that if you’re offered a vaccine appointment, I highly recommend taking that vaccine appointment. I think for most people there’s not really a reason to pick one or the other, unless there’s individual choices you know of like I said earlier, you know you don’t want to get a second shot, maybe it’s difficult for you to make it in for an appointment. These could be personal factors but I think overall you know we’re we’re working on ways to reach out to folks who don’t have a doctor here in Humboldt County, we have the Interest Form, encourage people to use that and I think that the opening up of MyTurn could also increase the ability for people to have access to appointments here in Humboldt County that wouldn’t be available to them otherwise, so we’re looking forward to those and work through some of those challenges that are going to be there for sure and implementing this change but those are some of the sorts of things that could help alleviate, you know, people who aren’t getting access right now.
From the Times-Standard: Many people are saying the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be the one for the masses but the efficacy was rated at 70 percent versus Moderna and Pfizer which were touted to have 95 efficacy. What are your thoughts on that concern?
I think all three of these are really great vaccines. I mean if you look at efficacy of vaccines, to have three vaccines that are this efficacious is actually, you know, an amazing place to be at this point in the pandemic. So if you’re offered an appointment, I would highly encourage you to take it regardless of the kind of vaccine that’s being offered and you know the the effectiveness of Johnson & Johnson in the United States trials was actually upwards of 87 percent, so it’s still a very good vaccine and has a lot of benefits to it so I hope that people will consider it and and take it when given an opportunity.