- In California, starting March 15, healthcare providers may use their clinical judgement to vaccinate individuals age 16-64 who are deemed to be at the very highest risk.
At the end of January, in the middle of a torrential rain, my husband and I drove to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles to take our first dose of Covid-19 vaccine. We knew that we have to follow the science to protect ourselves and the community at large. Since last year we have been hearing many negative remarks about the vaccines which were being developed at that time. None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.
There are several different types of vaccines in development. All of them teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. Learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work.
It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity (protection against the virus that causes COVID-19) after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and still get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.
Studies found that the two initial vaccines are both about 95% effective — and reported no serious or life-threatening side effects. There are many reasons why the COVID-19 vaccines could be developed so quickly. Here are just a few:
- The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna were created with a method that has been in development for years, so the companies could start the vaccine development process early in the pandemic.
- China isolated and shared genetic information about COVID-19 promptly, so scientists could start working on vaccines.
- The vaccine developers didn’t skip any testing steps, but conducted some of the steps on an overlapping schedule to gather data faster.
- Vaccine projects had plenty of resources, as governments invested in research and/or paid for vaccines in advance.
- Some types of COVID-19 vaccines were created using messenger RNA (mRNA), which allows a faster approach than the traditional way that vaccines are made.
- Social media helped companies find and engage study volunteers, and many were willing to help with COVID-19 vaccine research.
- Because COVID-19 is so contagious and widespread, it did not take long to see if the vaccine worked for the study volunteers who were vaccinated.
- Companies began making vaccines early in the process — even before FDA authorization — so some supplies were ready when authorization occurred.
Understanding mRNA Covid-19 Vaccines
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein.” The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside the immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them.
Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19.
At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection. The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.
California’s New Vaccine System to Start on Monday
State health officials announced that all counties will start playing by the same rulebook on Monday 03/01/2021, when Blue Shield will take over distribution of vaccines in California.
A patchwork of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility policies that differ from county to county has deeply frustrated Californians. So state officials hired Blue Shield, one of the state’s largest health insurers, to streamline and manage the logistics of allocating vaccines to local health departments and other vaccine providers.
Blue Shield today spelled out some of the details of how the new oversight will work. Ten counties — eight in the Central Valley plus Imperial and Riverside — will go first. This means that Blue Shield will make recommendations to state health officials on how many doses should go to each of those counties, and which providers should get them.
Blue Shield CEO Paul Markovich said that its recommendations for how much to distribute doses to each county will be based on priority groups in the state’s vaccination tiers as well as the state’s goals to provide equity for disadvantaged communities.
All 58 counties are expected to go through the transition by the end of March. The most populated counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and San Bernardino, will be in the second wave, with most Bay Area counties in the third wave.
As counties move to the Blue Shield system, myturn.ca.gov and 1-833-422-4255 will become the main routes for scheduling appointments. Currently, signing up for appointments looks different in each county, with different websites and phone numbers, often confusing and frustrating residents.
COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Guidelines
Based on available supply, individuals described below are or will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines:
- Phase 1A (healthcare workers and LTC residents): 3,142,166 Californians
- Phase 1B
- Food/Agriculture, Education/Childcare, and Emergency Services: 5,960,528 Californians
- 65+: 6,254,300 Californians
Beginning March 15, healthcare providers may use their clinical judgement to vaccinate individuals age 16-64 who are deemed to be at the very highest risk for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 as a direct result of one or more of the severe health conditions included in this provider bulletin.
This age-based framework will be coupled with a vaccine distribution and engagement approach that prioritizes disproportionately impacted communities, settings, and populations to ensure those eligible for vaccines within these communities are more likely to receive it.
If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Experts are still learning more about how long vaccines protect against COVID-19 in real-world conditions. CDC will keep the public informed as new evidence becomes available.
Amy Ghosh is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles. She migrated to U.S. in 1987 and has been married to a (retired) rocket scientist for 35 years. She has two adult children. Before becoming an attorney, she was a bio-chemist and worked for several well-known hospitals and laboratories. Amy continues to be very much in touch with her motherland India and her favorite city Calcutta. She has recently produced a Bengali movie “Urojahaj —The Flight” by highly acclaimed film maker Buddhdeb Dasgupta. She is continually looking for meaningful opportunity to contribute to the society through her legal and social work.