More than 300 first responders from the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department were early beneficiaries of the Pfizer vaccine overnight Monday after it was discovered that there were leftover doses at the staff vaccination clinic at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
As Monday came to a close, clinic workers found they had doses that would otherwise go to waste, since Pfizer's Instruction sheet for care providers instructs them to discard any doses six hours after they are thawed and diluted.
Sharp contacted San Diego after the clinic closed and let city officials know the vaccines were set to expire within hours, then asked if the city could send some first-responders to the clinic for the shots.
Sharp Healthcare was able to provide vaccines to 186 officers and 120 firefighters, who were able to get to the clinic within hours and receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. A second shot must be administered after two weeks.
A Sharp Healthcare representative told NBC 7 that the medical center has been operating walk-in vaccination clinics for their medical staff every day for the past week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and has vaccinated more than 10,000 employees and medical staff.
"Between last night and this morning, instead of wasting this precious resource, they quickly reached out to city of San Diego firefighters and police officers to see if they would be interested in getting the vaccines overnight," the Sharp representative said. "By early this morning, [nearly] 300 first-responders had been given their vaccine."
While health care workers and residents and employees of skilled nursing facilities fall into Phase 1A of vaccine distribution, essential workers --including police officers and firefighters -- are expected to be covered in Phase 1B, pending authorization from the Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
The county of San Diego confirmed it has asked the California Department of Public Health to direct health care systems in similar positions to Sharp Healthcare to notify and coordinate with county health officials before jumping prioritization phases (tiers).
"The county was made aware this morning that Sharp had 300 vaccines due to expire so they brought in a number of SDPD to vaccinate... Sharp did not notify the county in advance or we would have directed them to vaccinate 1A eligible recipients," San Diego County communications director Mike Workman said.
Workman was unable to say if there were any penalties for jumping phases.
However, according to the state's guidance for allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine during phase 1A, in order to avoid waste or disuse of scarce supplies and to maximize their benefit to Californians, "health departments and facilities may offer vaccine promptly to persons in lower priority groups when demand subsides in the current groups, or doses are about to expire according to labeling instructions, after intensive and appropriate efforts to reach the groups prioritized at that moment."
Sharp Healthcare officials reached out around 7:30 p.m. Monday to offer the free vaccinations to the city, according to a city of San Diego spokesperson. The doses would have expired before 9 a.m. Tuesday
"Knowing time was of the essence to use these valuable resources, the vaccinations were administered to first-responders from the city’s fire-rescue and police departments who work closely with the public every day," Ashley Bailey, senior communications officer for the city of San Diego, stated in an email. "There were approximately 120 vaccines administered to EMT/paramedics from the fire-rescue Department and 186 administered to police officers. The city of San Diego recognizes the importance of keeping our public-safety personnel healthy and will continue to work collaboratively with all our partners."
The state's Community Vaccine Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss who would receive the next batch of vaccines, which will be distributed in Phase 1B.