San Bernardino County received 15,600 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from the state on Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Five high-risk frontline health care workers were the first in the county to get the vaccine at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.
The vaccine headed to medical facilities across the county by land and air, with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s aviation team flying the cargo to the county’s furthest corners.
San Bernardino County announced plans for distributing COVID-19 vaccines during a press conference on Friday, Dec. 11.
According to county spokesman David Wert, the first shipments of the vaccines created by Pfizer-BioNTech were scheduled to arrive in California on Tuesday, Dec. 15, and Wednesday, Dec. 16. Wert said the county would set a date for the distribution of the first vaccinations after they arrive. On Thursday, Dec. 17, the Food and Drug Administration was scheduled to consider a second vaccine from Moderna Inc.
Troy Pennington, an emergency room physician at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, explained how the vaccine works.
“The vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to create a memory of the spike protein found in COVID-19 so the body will recognize and neutralize the foreign invader,” said Pennington. “The vaccine does not contain an active part of the virus. Phizer went through three phases of testing, which enrolled more than 44,000 participants with representatives from all communities. The vaccine is given in two doses and is 95% effective seven days after the second dose. Patients receive the second shot on day 21. After 28 days, the vaccine is 98% effective.
“It is important to know that people can still contract the virus after receiving the vaccine,” continued Pennington. “However, the risk of serious disease and long-term side effects is almost 100% neutralized. Side effects can include pain at the injection site, fatigue and headaches. Allergic reactions can happen, but they can be taken care of with common medications. Only 2% of patients tested had side effects. Also, the rumor that mRNA vaccines can implant anything into someone’s DNA is false.”
According to Andrew Goldfrach, the county’s lead on the vaccination task force, California is receiving 327,000 doses of the vaccine, which will be split by health care providers.
Goldfrach said the county developed a four-phase system where high-risk health care workers would receive the vaccine first.
“The first doses will go to health care workers in ICUs and everyone involved in direct care for COVID-19 patients,” he said. “First responders are also in Phase 1A. Phase 1A includes people who are most at risk. Hospital workers, home and community health workers, dialysis center workers and primary care clinic employees.”
Phase 1B includes high-risk people of all ages with comorbid and underlying conditions as well as older adults living in congregate settings.
Phase 2 includes K-12 school staff, child care workers, critical workers in essential industries in high-risk settings, moderate-risk people with comorbid and underlying conditions, homeless shelters or group homes for people with disabilities and older adults not included in Phase 1.
Phase 3 includes young adults, children and workers in essential industries. Phase 4 encompasses everyone who did not receive the vaccine in a previous phase.
San Bernardino County Public Health Director Corwin Porter said the county is excited to receive the first doses after the recent surge in COVID-19 cases started dwindling ICU capacities.
“Unfortunately, the vaccine won’t immediately stop the pandemic or the surge in cases, but it is a great step forward,” said Porter.
“Staffing is one of the biggest challenges. There isn’t enough staff at our hospitals. It’s a problem throughout the state and the nation.”
Pennington said his biggest concern is the upcoming holidays.
“The ICU is full at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center,” said Pennington. “The vaccine won’t make a difference for a couple of months. In February, we should be able to take a breath.”
Goldfrach said the vaccine would be free to everyone.