The first Californians on Monday received their initial dose of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, providing a glimmer of hope at one of the state’s worst points of the pandemic.
Kim Taylor, an emergency room nurse at Kaiser Permanent Los Angeles, was among the first five healthcare workers in the state to recieve the promising vaccine.
“We frontline workers have been working around the clock over the past nine months, sacrificing so much of what we do and love to take care of our patients,” Taylor said moments after receiving it. “What I want you guys to know is that help is on the way. Today is just the first step. ”
California’s first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine touched down Sunday evening at Los Angeles International Airport, and within hours doses were being distributed to county health departments and hospitals across the state.
The state’s initial allotment includes about 327,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine with another 300,000 doses expected next week. By the end of the month, the state is expecting another 627,000 doses from Moderna, whose vaccine is still awaiting final approval in the US but has been shown to be similarly effective to Pfizer’s.
About 33,150 vaccines were distributed on Monday to four hospital systems, including San Francisco General Hospital, St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton and Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. Another 24 healthcare systems were expected to recieve their doses on Tuesday, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“Today is hopeful and let’s be optimistic, but let’s also be mindful of where we really are in this pandemic,” Newsom said during a news conference Monday. “… Today we received as many doses in the entire state of California as there were new cases.”
The initial vaccine doses come as California’s explosive COVID-19 surge continues to wreak havoc on communities and hospitals across the state. With more than 222,000 new cases in the past week – an average of more than 31,700 per day – more Californians have tested positive in the past seven days than all of October and September, combined.
In the past two weeks, California’s average daily cases have increased by 127%. Hospitals are already feeling the effects of a surge in cases that began about six weeks ago with a 76% increase in COVID-positive patients in the past two weeks.
Some healthcare systems in the Bay Area have already received their doses of the vaccine, while others are anxiously awaiting the distribution of the vaccine to their staff later this week.
San Francisco General Hospital received the city’s first 2,000 doses of the vaccine Monday morning, according to city Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax.
“We are on the brink of a historic moment for our city and our nation,” Colfax said. The rollout of the vaccine, though, will be long and too late for this surge, he cautioned. At its current rate, hospitals in San Francisco will be full in three to four weeks.
“I cannot emphasize this enough, we must remain vigilant. … This vaccine will not save us from the current surge in hospitalizations. ”
Kaiser Permanente anticipates the delivery of the first doses of vaccine to its Northern California medical centers beginning on Wednesday and Thursday.
At Regional Medical Center in East San Jose – the hardest hit hospital in the Bay Area where Covid-19 patients continue to pour in – detailed plans are underway to determine the order of recipients among the doctors, nurses and staff, considered the top tier for the vaccine rollout. Hospital administrators are also planning for the impact of possible vaccine side effects, including fever and chills, symptoms that could keep some of the staff home for a day or two.
“It’s an elaborate process, to say this person gets it first, this person gets it second. It is ER, the ICU? ” Regional spokeswoman Sarah Sherwood. “We go through everybody in the hospital and say, do you want the shot? Nine out of 10 say yes. ”
At the same time, the numbers of Covid patients seeking medical attention keep going up. Last week, the hospital hit a new high of 70 patients and the ICU was full. Regional is located in East San Jose, heavily populated by Latinx and Asian residents who often are essential workers and suffer from health conditions that make recovery from coronavirus more difficult.
“Right now, it’s still going up and we expect it to keep going up this week. That’s our parallel universe, ”Sherwood said. “You can see people get this from Thanksgiving. They start having symptoms, they get worse and they don’t come in. They get much worse and they don’t come in, then they finally come in. It’s going to run into Christmas. ”
For those who may think the arrival of the vaccine will eradicate the virus quickly, John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California-Berkeley, has one message: “Vaccines don’t protect people. Vaccinations do. ”
“This vaccine will make a difference for those who get it – that is once they get the second dose – but it is not going to make a difference for the general public and the horrific (coronavirus) numbers that we’re seeing for a good while.
“A lot of people will die waiting to get it.”