General public could get COVID vaccine starting next week in Las Vegas

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Jae C. Hong / AP

In this Jan. 7, 2021, photo syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif.

Tue, Jan 12, 2021 (1:10 p.m.)

Mass COVID-19 vaccinations for the general public could begin as early as next week in Las Vegas.

Frontline healthcare workers, who became the first group of people to receive coronavirus vaccines last month, should wrap up their inoculations this or next week, Dr. Fermin Leguen, the Southern Nevada Health District’s acting chief health officer, said during an online chat Tuesday with Nevada Democratic U.S. Rep. Susie Lee.

This will allow the county to move into the next phase of vaccination, with new “megasites” at the Cashman Center and the Las Vegas Convention Center helping the health district distribute as many as 40,000 to 45,000 shots per week.

Leguen said the Cashman site should be ready on Thursday or Friday and eventually be able to churn out 3,000 to 4,000 shots per day. The convention center should be online in a week or two and be good for 4,000 daily shots.

The Food and Drug Administration green-lit COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna last month, and Nevada started inoculating healthcare workers Dec. 14. Local nursing home and assisted living residents have also since started receiving their shots.

After these “tier one” recipients have been fully inoculated, Nevada can move into its newly announced bifurcated “lane” system. Workers in certain essential industries, ranked by priority starting with public safety workers, would occupy one lane, while the general public, starting with seniors age 70 and up, would lead the other.

The workforce lane would receive their shots at the mass sites, while the general public will get theirs at pharmacies.

All this assumes, of course, that the health district has massive amounts of vaccine doses on hand. That’s been a weakness across Nevada.

“Right now what we know from the state immunization authorities is that Nevada is receiving about 35,000 doses of vaccine per week,” Leguen said. “That won’t be enough for our needs the way that we’re planning this.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released national data showing that Nevada is in the bottom 10 of states for vaccine shipment and administration. State officials, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, blame the federal government for creating a bottleneck. They say federal distribution practices, which release doses a week at a time, have made planning difficult.

Lee, who has also been busy this week supporting potential impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump after last week’s failed insurrection at the Capitol, was more pointed.

“Unfortunately, as with many elements of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an abysmal lack of federal planning and coordination when it comes to the vaccine distribution,” she said Tuesday. “Many people in our community have felt that, have been waiting, have been confused about how and when and where to get the vaccine. It’s left us in a situation, like so many other states, to play catch-up. I can only hope that the next president, the next administration coming into office next week will really begin to lead a nationwide mobilization effort and give this problem the urgency that it deserves.”

Leguen said that by next month, it’s likely that more manufacturers’ vaccines should be authorized by the FDA.

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