BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — It's official: after months of waiting, Kern Medical became the first hospital in the county to administer Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. Dr. Arash Heidari, an infectious disease specialist, was the first person in the county to receive the vaccine. But he wasn't the only healthcare professional to receive the first dose of what many hope will end the current pandemic.
Dr. Heidari said he wanted to receive the vaccine to send a message to the public.
"I volunteered myself to receive the first vaccine and the message is this is safe and we should go for it."
Jacqueline Laws, the Clinical Director of the Medical Specialty Department at Kern Medical is the first nurse locally to be vaccinated, calling it a blessing. Laws said she isn't scared of the side effects. The only thing she feared was getting COVID-19.
"Yes, I am blessed to be the first nurse, registered nurse, here in Kern County to get vaccinated."
Kern Medical received enough doses to give 1,125 vaccines to their staff, which still doesn't cover all healthcare workers locally. The vaccine will help with COVID-19 symptoms and slowing down the spread of the virus but there isn't enough data to show whether or not it prevents the transmission of the virus to someone who isn't vaccinated.
A total of five health care professionals from Kern Medical received the first dose of the vaccine Thursday. Dr. Royce Johnson who is the Division Chief of Infectious Disease at Kern Medical, called it a historic day as he received his vaccination.
"Today is historic in the sense to paraphrase Winston Churchill after the Battle of Britain, this is the beginning of the end. I think in that sense it's a historic occasion. I think we have now developed the tools that will allow us to go forward to defeat COVID instead of it defeating our population."
Each doctor was monitored for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine, one of them was Dr. Rasha Kuran an Infectious Disease Specialist. Dr. Kuran telling 23ABC the vaccine was painless and more than anything she felt excited.
"I think this is the beginning of the final stages. Hopefully the beginning of the end of this pandemic."
As for when sick patients and the rest of the public can get the vaccine, it's all based on a tier system. Around 3million medical workers will receive it first to be able to help those battling the virus. Long term care residents are also at the top of the list. There is no set date on when the general public can get the vaccine.
Dr. Kuran said also believes the COVID-19 vaccine needs to be repeatedly given to the population just like the flu shot.
"I think this is going to modify our lives in the future but I don't think we're going to do the same strict precautions forever. Once the vaccines are implemented and hopefully the numbers are not pandemic magnitude then I think we are going to hopefully ease off but we will be more cognizant of how infections spread in the future than we have been in the past."
Dr. Kuran said that even though vaccines are now available that doesn't mean socially distancing and mask-wearing should stop until the pandemic is over.
23ABC also checked in with public health to see if there was a projection on when other people would receive the vaccine such as sick patients and other residents. They responded by saying the state has indicated it will be widely available later in 2021.
Public Health also stated that according to the CDC, we won't know how long immunity lasts until we have more data on how well it works.