RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Frontline health care workers at Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley lined up Friday, Dec. 18 to be among the first to receive Pfizer coronavirus vaccines, and while none reported negative reactions, they shared the same sensation — relief.

“I felt like 30 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders, knowing I had been vaccinated,” Dr. Nikki Mittal, a pulmonary specialist, said during a briefing outside the hospital. “This has been very hard on us. We know the vaccine is a first step but not the end.”

The medical center received a total 1,900 doses, and according to spokeswoman Heather Jackson, the vaccination program for staff got underway in the early morning hours.

“We’re extremely grateful to all of our frontline workers — from housekeeping, translation services, nurses and doctors,” Jackson said.

“They’re working hard every day. Please say a prayer for our teams and medical center. We hope the vaccine arrival serves as a beacon of hope.”

The county is slated to receive more than 25,000 vials this week and next. The first shipment of 14,625 arrived Thursday. The total number next week has not been verified, but county Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said it will contain 10,000 to 11,000 doses.

“This is a new chapter and offers a practical pathway out of the pandemic,” said Riverside University Health System Dr. Geoffrey Leung. “The arrival of the first shipment of vaccines is a new phase.”

He said the inoculations will not translate to an immediate resolution to the current coronavirus surge, and he encouraged county residents to continue practicing safe behavior, staying out of public gatherings, minimizing outside contact at home and washing hands regularly.

“Each of our actions has a ripple effect and will help turn the tide more quickly,” he said.

According to pharmacist Dr. Nikita Patel, the medical center’s vaccination program was established in October, and “ultra-cold freezer requirements” for the Pfizer doses are being closely adhered to.

“We’re very excited and remain optimistic, but we cannot become complacent,” she said. “Especially now, we must continue with precautions.”

Staff said the second-wave surge in COVID-19 cases has stretched the hospital’s resources, and because of space limitations, some pediatric patients, diagnosed with any illnesses, are being sent to Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Orange County for treatment.

Alexa Lara, a housekeeper in the COVID unit and emergency room at Riverside University Medical Center, received her vaccination soon after Mittal and said she felt “honored and blessed” to be among the first.

“I am in daily exposure and do have concerns and worries when I go home about bringing something to my family,” she said. “Every patient I see is family to me. It’s very heartbreaking to be in that Covid unit. Now I know I can walk in there with confidence.”

Both Lara and Mittal admitted having reservations about the efficacy of the vaccine and its potential for causing unforeseen impacts.

“I was a little hesitant because this had been made faster than any other vaccine that’s been produced,” Mittal said. “But after I saw the numbers on how many patients had been tested without bad outcomes or side effects, I felt more confident. Now, we have a little more protection.”

A doctor receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 18. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Lara said she spoke to an emergency room physician at length about receiving the shot, after which she “felt very safe and secure taking it.”

“I don’t have any soreness or tenderness in my arm. I feel perfectly fine,” she said.

Mittal said she sees the “sickest of the sick” at the medical center, and the latest spike in illnesses has been “exceedingly hard” to cope with. But now there is a reason to feel better about the future.

Health care workers at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs began receiving inoculations Thursday.

“It’s a beautiful feeling here. We’re all very excited and hopeful that this is the beginning of a new chapter,” said Todd Burke, spokesman for Tenet Healthcare, which operates the hospital.

He said the facility has the capacity to administer 120 doses per day.

The hospital is expecting another 165 does to be sent from Riverside County in the near future.

“After the general and acute-care hospitals are served, skilled nursing facilities will be next, then first responders — emergency medical technicians and paramedics,” Saruwatari told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

She said area pharmacies will be partnering with the county to provide shots. The exact timeline for offering vaccinations to the general public was not detailed.

While the Pfizer vaccine is going nationwide following U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, the other SARS-Cov-2 vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, was approved Thursday and will be rolling out soon, but Saruwatari did not have an estimate for when those vaccinations would be available.

City News Service (CNS)