The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines began in December after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Dec. 11. The FDA approved a second vaccine, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, on Dec. 18.
As of Jan. 18, more than 31 million doses were distributed in the United States and more than 15 million doses were administered according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). California had received more than 3 million vaccines and administered more than 1 million as of Jan. 16, according to covid19.ca.gov.
“It is important for people to get the vaccine,” said Krystal Velazquez, sophomore pre-nursing student. “The reason for this is that most diseases are eradicated thanks to vaccines. I think the distribution of the vaccine will lower the cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., but that is only if everyone who can get the vaccine takes it.”
California has developed a three-phase plan for vaccine distribution and administration that shares how the state plans to allocate vaccines in the upcoming months.
The first phase contains the people vaccinated first, including healthcare professionals and long-term care residents.
The second phase includes people over 65 years old and workers who have a higher chance of being exposed to the virus in certain jobs such as emergency services, education, childcare, food and agriculture and transportation. The second phase also contains groups where COVID-19 might spread more easily, such as people who are in prisons or are homeless.
The third phase includes people over 50 years old and younger people with underlying health conditions, as well as more workers at risk of being exposed to COVID-19. According to covid19.ca.gov, California expects to receive enough supplies to administer vaccines for most residents by this summer.
Dr. Emily Hollingurst, adjunct faculty of pharmacology, said that she expects the federal government to play a larger role in vaccine distribution in the coming months.
“This process is ever-changing as it was left to the states and local health departments to acquire vaccine doses, but since the Biden administration took over, there will be increased distribution and access to the vaccine,” Hollinghurst said. “The CDC established tiers and groups to prioritize vaccination, which the local health departments follow. The problem with leaving it up to the states and local health departments is there may be a lack of funding and support staff to store, administer and coordinate vaccinations. Just observing family and friends who have been trying to get their vaccines in different local counties, their experience has been frustrating.”
Each vaccine requires two shots for maximum protection. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a second shot three weeks after the first, and the Moderna vaccine requires one four weeks after the first, according to the CDC website.
The vaccines have some side effects common among patients, including pain and swelling around the shot, fever, chills, headaches and fatigue. However, the CDC reported 21 cases of an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis in the first 1,893,360 of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Anaphylaxis is treated with epinephrine. The CDC recommends those who experience an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine do not receive further doses.
Sarah Laker, senior nursing student, received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and she received observation for 30 minutes to ensure no severe allergic reactions took place.
“Getting this new vaccine should always be one’s personal choice,” Laker said. “That freedom must be maintained. However, I would say there is only a minuscule fraction of people who should be concerned about getting it.”
Hollingurst has received both doses of the Moderna vaccine. She experienced some soreness in her arm after the first dose and had chills, fatigue, muscle aches and fever after the second dose.
“These symptoms develop about 12 hours after injection and resolve in 24–48 hours,” Hollinghurst said. “These symptoms are expected. They are known as ‘reactogenicity,’ meaning the immune system is being stimulated to produce more antibodies and thus in turn have these systemic side effects. There are side effects and warnings with any vaccine.”
Even after receiving the vaccine, the CDC advises people to continue to socially distance themselves, wash their hands and wear masks around others.
“Right now, I feel that the virus is spreading like wildfire, and in the majority of cases I have seen it is spread amongst families because we let our guard down with our family,” Hollinghurst said. “It is unknown now if being inoculated will decrease the transmissibility of the virus if one were to be exposed or infected after complete vaccination. Our hope and experience with other vaccines for respiratory viruses are transmissions will be decreased in inoculated people, but that is still being investigated.”
Hollinghurst said she believes the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines will receive FDA emergency use authorization within the next few months.