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Frightening California COVID-19 Surge Continues Amid Promise of More Vaccines

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- On Dec. 15, 2020, at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, Bay Area history was made.

Pulmonologist Dr. Antonio Gomez, a critical care specialist who treats COVID-19 patients, was the first person here to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Over the course of the first couple of hours, I had a sore shoulder and I had no side effects from the first shot," Dr. Gomez recalled.

The next day, emergency room physician Dr. Tomas Diaz rolled up his sleeves at UC San Francisco.

"I was actually the fourth person at UCSF to be vaccinated so this is actually a two-part vaccine."

Last week, both doctors got their second shot.

"I felt a little bit of muscle aches and soreness but that's basically it. No fevers or chills or anything of that sort," Dr. Gomez said.

"I was feeling body aches, chills that lasted about a day and, you know, woke up fine," Dr. Diaz said.

California and the Bay Area are now facing an intense surge in COVID-19 cases. Some believe a new, more contagious variant, first recognized in the United Kingdom, is now circulating in several states and may play a role.

The strain, known as B.1.1.7, is more transmissible. That means more infections and a higher potential of mortalities. So far, 26 cases of the B.1.1.7 strain have been identified in California. More are likely circulating in the community.

"I mean, I look at the data across the city and the data across the state and the country qnd, you know, I'm worried. Do I have enough ICU beds to help manage this?" Dr. Diaz said.

To accelerate vaccination, President-elect Joe Biden's team announced plans to release nearly all available COVID-19 vaccine doses.

That's an abrupt shift from current Trump Administration policy that holds half the stock in reserve for second doses.

"I think it's prudent, in a sense, but it's overly conservative in a period when cases are really incredibly high and surging after the holidays," said Stanford COVID-19 researcher professor Joshua Salomon.

Dr Salomon crunched the numbers. He found by releasing more vaccines up front, you vaccinate more people and keep the two-dose schedule.

"We need as many vaccinations as we can to go into arms and not to sit in freezers," said Dr. Salomon.

California is also loosening its vaccine eligibility requirements so that doses don't expire and aren't wasted.

While they are both pleased they got a complete vaccination, Dr. Diaz and Dr. Gomez continue to take precautions. There is no herd immunity at this point and great unknowns remain about the vaccine.

"Even though the vaccine in the clinical trials has been stated to be 95 percent effective, which we all agree that it is, what we don't know is how long that immunogenicity or that protection lasts. So we do have to be extra careful," Dr. Gomez said.

"We actually don't know whether folks who have been vaccinated can continue to transmit the disease by not having symptoms. And so, it's important for those of us who have been vaccinated to continue to protect others by continuing to wear a mask and keep distance," said Dr. Diaz.

Both doctors told KPIX that they are grateful for all the efforts everyone is making to help limit the spread.

"We still are in that mode where we need to flatten the curve especially after the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's holidays," Dr. Gomez said.

"I think the way out of this is through vaccination and that, at the end of the day, that we have enough people vaccinated who are able to get back to building community and spending time with others. I think all of us are missing that right now." Dr. Diaz said.

Two more vaccine manufacturers have applied for FDA emergency-use authorization for their experimental vaccines.

The Oxford University/AstraZeneca product and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may get the green light from the FDA by February. The J & J vaccine should simplify the process. It's a one-shot vaccine.

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