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FDA Panel Recommends Authorization Of Pfizer Vaccine

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — The Food and Drug Administration's advisory panel on Thursday recommended the emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, a decision that could not come soon enough for hospitals across the Southland who are becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

If the vaccine is authorized by the FDA, the first shots could be distributed in the U.S. within days. Healthcare workers and nursing home residents would be among the first in line.

The panel of outside experts reviewed trial data from Pfizer's vaccine and made its recommendation to the FDA this afternoon.

Providence St. Mary Medical Center
Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Victorville set up an outdoor tent to triage arriving patients. Dec. 9, 2020. (CBSLA)

Thursday's vote following an hours-long meeting of the Food and Drug Administration's vaccine advisory panel is likely the last step before a U.S. decision to begin shipping millions of doses of the shot, which has shown strong protection against the coronavirus.

Dr. Brad Spellberg, the chief medical officer for LAC+USC Medical Center, told CBSLA Wednesday that he expects his hospital to receive several thousand doses of the vaccine, with shipments then ramping up after that.

"We're expecting to get the first round of vaccine, within the next, I would say, one to two weeks...The first round is probably going to be, not even just all doctors and nurses, but doctors, nurses and other people who go into high risk areas, the intensive care unit, the emergency department, the really highest risk people," said Dr. Brad Spellberg, the chief medical officer for LAC+USC Medical Center.

After vaccinating health workers, Spellberg says the hospital's priority will be vaccinating its highest risk patients.

Cedars-Sinai Medical is also working to identify its frontline staff and hopes to begin vaccinating them next week.

RELATED: Health Experts Say COVID-19 Vaccines Should Be Widely Available By June

The FDA's decision will come as the coronavirus continues surging across much of the world, claiming more than 1.5 million lives, including more than 289,000 in the U.S., according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That surpasses the number of deaths in the nation with the second-most, Brazil, by some 110,000.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 9,243 new coronavirus cases and 75 additional deaths Wednesday, bringing countywide totals to 475,271 cases and 8,075 deaths.

There were 3,299 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in L.A. County, a daily high since the pandemic began. 23% of those were being treated in intensive care units. According to officials, there were only 129 ICU bed still available in the county.

The patient surge is also overwhelming hospitals across the Southland. Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Victorville set up an outdoor tent to triage arriving patients. It also transformed its lobby into an extended COVID-19 unit.

"I know today that we have 60 patients holding in our emergency department that are waiting for beds inside the hospital," said Mendy Hickey Wednesday, quality director for the Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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