Spirits are high for those who have received the coronavirus vaccine or are top of the list to do so, with front-line healthcare workers, first responders and vulnerable individuals benefiting from the first phase of vaccinations being released by the Alameda County Public Health Department.
As phase one of the vaccine distribution process continues throughout the state, county health officials are also preparing for more widespread availability and have outlined the priority list for when different groups of residents will be eligible to receive a vaccine.
"We are at the beginning of the biggest public health immunization campaign in history and it’s going to take time," Contra Costa Health Services Director Anna Roth said. "At some point, everyone who wants a COVID vaccine will be able to get one. While we aren’t there yet, making vaccines available to everyone is our top priority."
With vaccines in limited supply, immunizations have only been available to priority groups in high-risk settings, such as frontline healthcare workers and nursing-home residents and staff. These groups have been targeted heavily in the first wave of vaccine distributions and have been designated as belonging in group 1A -- according to Alameda County's vaccine priority list.
"We've had a lot of fun with it, we know this is, normally people don't get excited about vaccines, flu vaccine doesn't have the same reaction," Stoneridge Creek Retirement Community's Executive Director Zeke Griffin said during a vaccination event held on Tuesday. "It symbolizes more than just getting a vaccine, it's hopefully getting back to normal. We know that doesn't happen tomorrow, that doesn't happen three weeks from now but it's getting closer and this is a legitimate effort to get closer. So people are thrilled."
"Yesterday it was almost like the Beatles were playing, people were acting like 'I'm going to get into the concert.' There's a lot of excitement," he added.
Stoneridge Creek in Pleasanton hosted a vaccination event on Monday and Tuesday, where between 1,000 and 1,100 residents and employees received their first dosage of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Griffin said that turnout was exceptionally high with around 95% of residents opting to take the vaccine.
Typical of vaccination events held throughout the state, participants are lined up -- at least six feet apart of course -- to receive their vaccine and then are held for at least 15 minutes afterward for observation.
Griffin described the coronavirus vaccination as being similar to the flu shot, with the only side effect being a slightly sore arm. In a small number of cases, recipients can have adverse reactions to the vaccine -- those who have had adverse reactions to flu shots may be susceptible to adverse reactions to the COVID-19 shot.
After the majority of residents in 1A who want to receive a vaccine do, county officials will commence with those in group 1B, which is further divided into two distinct priority groups, Tier 1 and Tier 2.
Tier 1 is populated by adults over the age of 75, education and childcare workers, police officers and food and agricultural workers. After they receive their vaccinations it will open up to Tier 2, which includes adults over the age of 65, transportation workers, critical manufacturing workers and those who live in congregate settings such as incarcerated individuals and people experiencing homelessness.
Next up, 1C will cover adults over the age of 50, people aged 16-49 with high-risk medical conditions, pregnant residents, waste and water management officials, defense workers, energy workers, communications and IT staff, financial services workers, government operations officials and community service employees.
Health conditions covered in 1C include: cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), heart conditions, organ transplants, overweight (BMI>40 kg/m2), Type 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus, smoking, asthma (moderate to severe), Cerebrovascular Disease, Cystic fibrosis, Hypertension/high blood pressure, immunocompromised; blood/bone marrow transplant, neurologic conditions e.g. dementia, liver disease, Pulmonary Fibrosis and Thalassemia.
Phase 2 of vaccinations will cover residents with moderate underlying health conditions not previously covered in 1C.
Young adults and children thought by some to not be as high of risk to COVID-19 will receive their vaccinations during Phase 3 of the rollout, with all other residents and workers not previously vaccinated set to receive theirs during Phase 4.
The vaccines priority list has primarily been set through guidance issued from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health.
"The vaccine is an important step forward to get back to normalcy. Obviously the highest risk and most vulnerable should be vaccinated first. However, eventually when the young and healthy are offered the vaccine, this will be a crucial step in combating this virus," Dr. Renzo Cardena, an emergency medicine physician at San Ramon Regional Medical Center, told the Weekly.
"When the young and healthy get vaccinated, this is more to protect their loved ones, and can be viewed as a selfless act of humanity," Dr. Cardena added.
According to the Alameda County Public Health Department and Contra Costa Health Services, as of Tuesday a total of 62,046 cases and 763 deaths have been reported in Alameda County, while 48,449 cases and 392 deaths have been documented in Contra Costa County.
Livermore leads the Tri-Valley, accounting for 3,200 of cases, followed by Pleasanton with 1,639, San Ramon with 1,468, Dublin with 1,185 and Danville with 1,164.
While the vaccine's rollout will help residents return to the sense of normalcy mentioned by Griffin, public and health officials have maintained that it is vitally important that residents continue to wear masks and enforce social distancing. Especially for residents who have only received their first of two vaccinations -- both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses in order to reach their maximum effectiveness.
"We're excited but we're also emphasizing to people that they need to continue to do all of the right things to be safe because there is no magic pill for anything," Griffin told the Weekly. "You still need to do the right things to be safe, with all the facial coverings and social distancing, until we're told that things are back to a normal state. So we'll continue to stay safe together."
Learn more about the vaccine rollout online at https://covid-19.acgov.org/vaccines.