Ten months into the pandemic and people still have a lot of questions.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye and others are offering updates on the COVID-19 pandemic during a series of “community conversations” held virtual to keep the public informed. The meetings are held twice a month via Zoom.

During last week’s talk, Dr. Kasirye gave an overview of “where we are” in terms of COVID-19 numbers.

“COVID-19 is likely to be the third leading cause of death,” she said, sharing information she received from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.

“I know that a lot of people have had questions about ‘is this real,’ ‘are these deaths real’ and I’ll tell you they are, because our public health (department), we’re the ones who receive the death reports.”

Dr. Kasirye also provided information on the kinds of COVID-19 tests that are currently offered and their effectiveness and drawbacks. Rachel Allen, the Sacramento County Public Health Immunization Program Manager, gave a presentation on the County’s initial distribution of vaccines created by Moderna and Pfizer.

“With this pandemic and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine, our program is definitely front and center and has a big role in this,” Ms. Allen said.

“It’s still such a serious time for use and the vaccine is really this glimmer of hope for everyone,” she continued.

Vaccinations are currently in Phase 1a, during which they are going to those who are at highest risk of exposure to the virus due to the work in direct health care or in long-term care settings. Residents in these long-term care facilities will also get the vaccine at this level, as will paramedics and EMTs. Up next will be home healthcare providers, public health workers, and then lab workers and dentists and their staff. Seniors and older people with chronic conditions are also in a second tier, Phase 1b, as are frontline workers such as police officers and teachers.

“The state has really recognized that this is not a situation where we’re going to finish a tier, you know and ‘it’s done and move on.’ We want to reach everyone in tier 1 and when we think we’ve gotten to everyone that we can, as best we can, we’re ready to move to the next group. We don’t want to delay and we don’t want vaccine to be wasted,” Ms. Allen said.

Sacramento County, she said, is also working to enroll more healthcare providers “to get the vaccine to who it’s supposed to go to.”

Dr. Kasirye also cleared up a particular concern she says she’s been hearing a lot from locals.

“The vaccine does not contain any part of the virus,” she said. “So it will not give you COVID-19. What we’ve mentioned is that it has what we call ‘messenger RNA,’ which actually carries a message to your cells to tell them, ‘OK, produce this protein,’ and the protein is very similar to what is found on the virus and that is what helps the cell to then start the immune system and the immune system says ‘OK, what’s going on here.’

There have been some concerns about the movement of the vaccine distribution. County Public Health gave an update Thursday, stating that it has 975 doses allocated for the week of January 18 and due to the limited amount, the County will not be able to accommodate all requests for vaccination, between the continued need in Phase 1a frontline workers, as well as the addition of those who are 65 years old and older. Those who have already received their first dose, will soon need to come in for the second, which will further limit availability for new recipients.

“We request patience as we work to navigate the rapidly changing landscape of vaccination best practices and availability,” Dr. Kasirye said.

“We are working closely with health care providers, frontline employers and dozens of other public and private entities to ensure that anyone eligible and interested in the vaccine can receive it as soon as possible. We are closer than ever to COVID-19 immunizations for everyone who wants them, but we are not there yet.”

The next community conversation sessions are set for January 21 and February 4 at 6:00 p.m.. Advanced registration is required and is available online at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__MItRI1lQwaaXlUlemJfRA. Updates on vaccination distribution are also online at https://www.saccounty.net/COVID-19/Pages/CoronavirusVaccine.aspx.

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer