A photo illustration of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

San Diego County will get 28,000 doses of the new Pfizer vaccine in the next week or two, but it will be March or April before coronavirus vaccines are widely available, public health officials said Wednesday.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health, officer, told local media the initial doses would go to medical personnel and nursing home residents and employees, but not in sufficient numbers to vaccinate all who need it.

“There are far more than 28,000 individuals in this first phase,” she said, but added that a second allocation of vaccine is expected within three weeks after the first round.

She said the county has one ultra-cold freezer needed to store the Pfizer vaccine and has ordered additional units.

Wooten said the county will follow the five-phase rollout for vaccinations set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The phases are:

  • Phase 1a – Medical personnel, nursing home residents and workers
  • Phase 1b – People with underlying medical conditions
  • Phase 2 – Teachers, other critical workers, older adults
  • Phase 3 – Children and young adults
  • Phase 4 – Everyone

Wooten said she expected sufficient doses for everyone in the county by March or April.

The vaccine comes as local case counts continue to set records and local hospitals are seeing the number of available ICU beds “continue to decline precipitously” as COVID-19 surges.

The county reported 1,217 new cases and 16 deaths on Wednesday, with hospitalizations continuing to increase.

Wooten released figures showing that over the month of November, hospitalizations tripled, and the number of ICU beds in use by COVID-19 patients doubled. On Wednesday, 739 people were hospitalized with the disease, with 209 in intensive care and 77% of all ICU beds occupied.

“The escalation of COVID-positive patients in this county is very real and it is a very real threat,” said Chris Howard, president and CEO of Sharp HealthCare. “We’re concerned with ICU capacity and we’re concerned with staffing.”

He said the county’s hospitals are bracing for “the most monumental surge of this virus that we’ve experienced to date” over the next 30 days.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.