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LA Healthcare Workers Begin Receiving COVID-19 Vaccinations

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Southern California's first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine arrived at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday night, and local healthcare workers began getting vaccinated as early as Monday.

LAX posted on social media that the first batch of the vaccine had arrived at the airport aboard a FedEx plane Sunday evening.

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Boxes containing the first shipments of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are unloaded from air shipping containers at UPS Worldport December 13, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. Each box contains dry ice to keep the temperature at minus 70 Celsius and contains a GPS tracker. (Photo by Michael Clevenger - Pool/Getty Images)

L.A. County expects to receive nearly 83,000 doses of the vaccine this week, with the initial doses distributed to 83 acute-care hospitals for administration to critical frontline workers. Orange County is expected to get another 25,000 doses.

Gov. Gavin Newsom was on hand early Monday afternoon when healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center became among the first in the region to receive the vaccine.

The vaccine could not come soon enough to the Southland. Sunday marked the first time in the pandemic that there were more than 4,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in L.A. County. In Orange County, a record 1,236 coronavirus patients were hospitalized Sunday.

UCLA Health officials said they expected to get the vaccines Monday or Tuesday, with shots administered on Wednesday.

"UCLA Health is implementing comprehensive and detailed plans to receive, store and administer COVID-19 vaccinations. We anticipate a limited number of doses arriving in the next day or two, with additional supplies to follow. We have been designated as a regional hub for distribution to other acute-care hospitals," a UCLA Health statement said.

Officials with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said they had no definitive information yet on when they would be receiving the vaccine.

A critical care nurse in New York became the first person in the U.S. to receive the vaccine Monday morning.

Grady Williams, nursing director for Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, told CBSLA that the rollout of the vaccine would not immediately alleviate the pressure that hospitals are facing.

"This is a marathon, this isn't a sprint," Williams said. "We do know that the vaccine will help. But it's hard for us to look that far into the future when we're really just trying to struggle to staff and care for our patients that we have right now."

St. Joseph is taking in vials for regional hospitals in their network. They have special freezers and carrying boxes to help distribute them.

"It's not instant," he added. "That takes time. We need people to give the vaccines, and we need people to show up and take the vaccine."

The Pfizer vaccine was co-developed by German partner BioNTech. It needs to be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit. Each box is being shipped with 50 pounds of dry ice and 20 pounds of vaccine, along with GPS trackers and temperature checks.

Last week, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that the county hopes to receive its second allotment of a vaccine made by Moderna -- about 250,000 doses, pending FDA approval -- around Dec. 20.

Staff and residents of nursing facilities and long-term care facilities will be among the first wave of people receiving the Moderna vaccine. By sending the doses directly to skilled nursing facilities, the vaccine can be administered right away instead of waiting for a federal agreement with CVS and Walgreens to begin on roughly Dec. 28.

Ferrer said public health officials Friday began the process of training skilled nursing facility staff on how to administer the vaccination, while noting that those staffers already administer flu vaccines, so it is not a new experience.

The county anticipates receiving another 150,000 doses of vaccine by the end of December, followed by weekly allotments of 250,000 beginning in January.

After the distribution of vaccines to health care workers, skilled nursing facilities and long-term care staff and residents is completed, priority will then move to "essential workers" and then to people at highest risk of severe illness from the virus, such as seniors or those with underlying health conditions.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine. Then on Sunday, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and prevention did the same, allowing for the vaccine to be administered nationwide. The first freight trucks carrying about 184,000 vials rolled out of the Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Sunday.

Army Gen. Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed told reporters Saturday that UPS and FedEx would be delivering the vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the country.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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