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COVID Pandemic: Pfizer Vaccine Heads to FDA for Approval as Bay Area Awaits 1st Shipments

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- The Food and Drug and Administration's authorization of Pfizer's COVID vaccine could come within the next couple days now that a government advisory panel has voted to approve its emergency use.

The FDA doesn't have to follow the advice of the panel but it usually does.

At the very top of the list to get vaccinated are hospital workers.

The sprint to get the COVID-19 vaccine from the production line and into arms of the most vulnerable is nearing the finish line but there's still a long way to go in the marathon to reach herd immunity and control the viral spread.

California will initially receive more than 327,000 of the Pfizer COVID vaccine doses. San Francisco county will be given 12,000 doses next week but there is hesitation by many to take the vaccine.

"Some nurses are concerned about the vaccines having adverse side effects," said Jenny Rudnicki.

Rudnicki said she will take the vaccine when it's offered by her employer.

"I think the evidence so far is promising and reasonable but I cannot promise you surprises won't happen," said Stanford professor of epidemiology Dr. John Ioannidis.

UCSF health officials told KPIX they are "strongly encouraging" all workers to get COVID vaccinations but will not mandate it. If an employee declines, that person must wear personal protective equipment.

"I don't think it's the best recipe to push something down one's throat. It's much better to say we have science and we have good data that seem to be perfectly fine," said Ioannidis.

There are three tiers of health care workers. At the top, Tier 1 includes hospital workers and staff at skilled nursing facilities.

Local county health departments know how many doses they'll get next week and the week after that but, in the fourth week of December, most health departments haven't been given that information.

Stanford's Dr. Hayley Gans is a pediatric infectious disease specialist and on the FDA advisory panel giving the green light.

"All of the data was incredibly compelling in terms of efficacy as well as the safety in allowing this vaccine to be used at this time," Gans said.

Paramedics and dialysis centers are also in Tier 1 but will have to wait even longer than hospital workers.

Primary care clinics are in Tier 2. Farther down, laboratory, dental and pharmacy staff are in Tier 3.

The initial shipments to Bay Area counties won't even be enough to vaccinate the first two tiers.

"I do hope we'll have a major impact from these vaccines but, honestly, we don't know exactly what the magnitude of the impact will be," Ioannidis said.

Moderna will send more than double the doses Pfizer will ship to California after FDA review and approval expected next week. Its vaccine can be stored at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit versus Pfizer's minus-94-degree vaccine.

"It will be more of a challenge using the Pfizer vaccine in developing countries that don't have the same kind of facilities," said Ioannidis.

In Santa Clara, 6,000 skilled nursing facility staff will be offered the vaccine through the county health department.

But residents at those facilities will get vaccinated through a separate federal program distributing doses through pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS.

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