Dr. Antonio Gomez received the first Covid vaccine in SF
Dr. Antonio Gomez, the first person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at SF General Hospital stands for a portrait outside of SF General Hospital in San Francisco, California on Tuesday, December, 15, 2020. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle.

San Francisco accepted its first batch of Covid-19 Pfizer vaccines, and medical workers at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital were the first recipients.

Much to his surprise, at about five minutes to 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dr. Antonio Gomez, became the city’s first person to be immunized with the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine. He’s the hospital’s medical director of critical care, and works frequently with covid-infected patients.

“I found out I was going to get it today yesterday morning, but I didn’t know [I’d be the first] until I walked in,” Gomez told Mission Local. “This is really a light at the end of the tunnel. Once it’s available, everyone should take it.”

The doctor said it felt like any other vaccination, and like others for measles and mumps, “it’s the only way we have to keep Covid-19 under control long term,” he said. “If it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t allow them to administer it to me.” 

San Francisco, by state guidelines, has dedicated its first batch of 12,675 shots to frontline workers and those living in long-term care facilities or nursing homes. 

From there, how the shots are divvied up depends on how many healthcare workers each hospital has in proportion to the entire city’s healthcare worker population. 

To be effective, the Covid-19 vaccine requires two shots, spaced 21 days apart. The city expects to get a batch from the state every week, with facilities on the hook for giving the second shot. So far in mid-December, California has been allotted 327,000 doses. Region II, which includes cities in and around the Bay Area, has been allotted 80,497 vaccines, the state health department’s site showed.

The finite amount of vaccines has caused the state to prioritize certain populations according to outlined CDC vaccine recommendations, such as healthcare workers, high-risk populations and essential workers. It’s unlikely that it will be available to the general population until late 2021.

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The immunizations bring a bright spot in an otherwise bleak year, but the fight against the pandemic — and the most recent surge — is far from over, Dr. Grant Colfax said in a statement. At present, the city is experiencing one of its worst surges and reporting 234 new cases a day. In total, there’s been 18,848 cases and 167 deaths in San Francisco. 

“While this is a significant moment that we should celebrate, we have a long road ahead of us,” Colfax said. “Even after the vaccine, we will still need to continue using the preventative measures that we’ve come to know so well in the past year: covering our faces and social distancing for a long time to come.”

Vaccinations can seriously lower someone’s chances of getting and spreading a disease, doctors said. And medical experts suggest if enough people get vaccinated, society will develop herd immunity, which is when enough of the population is immune to a disease to prevent huge outbreaks. That could potentially bring everyone closer to pre-covid normal.  

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned that “experts do not know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19,” and the percentage of the population needed to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity depends on the disease. For example, an article from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests 90 to 93 percent of a population must be vaccinated for herd immunity to be achieved specifically for measles. 

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Still, the excitement across the country was palpable, especially for nurses like Phung Nguyen, who works in Zuckerberg’s intensive care unit and was the city’s second vaccine recipient. The hospital has attended to the city’s most acute cases of covid, and as of Dec. 13 about 160 people were hospitalized for covid; about 36 percent of the city’s intensive care 24 percent of acute care beds are available

“I’m very honored and excited,” Nguyen told the press pool after getting the shot. “I’m so relieved I can go to work with the protection I need.”

Mayor London Breed echoed the sentiment, and called Tuesday “historic for our city and, we hope, the start of a turning point in our response to Covid-19.”

Mayor London Breed greets medical personnel who had been vaccinated for Covid-19 at SF General Hospital in San Francisco, California on Tuesday, December, 15, 2020. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle.

At a press conference for a new essential Hub in the Bayview, the mayor said the city would focus on bolstering vaccine education and outreach among communities the virus has affected most. 

“We’re going to be working with all of you [at Mission Neighborhood Centers] and making sure we roll out this vaccine in a responsible way in a way that builds trust with the community,” she said.

“This has been a really tough year,” Breed said, “and it gives us some much-needed hope during an otherwise challenging and uncertain time.” 

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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