‘Spirit of hope’: Fil-Am health care workers among first to receive COVID-19 vaccine in LA County

Anna Medrano (left), a Filipina American nurse practitioner, was the first health care worker at City of Hope in Duarte, California to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, December 16.  | Photo courtesy of City of Hope

FOR the first time since the pandemic hit Los Angeles County, Anna Medrano walked into work hopeful.

With a quick jab to her left arm, the Filipina American nurse practitioner became the first health care worker at City of Hope in Duarte to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, December 16.

Some nine months on the frontlines of the virus, Medrano didn’t hesitate to sign up for the vaccine as it was an opportunity “to lead by example.”

“The vaccine experience was surreal. There was a spirit of hope in the air as we received the first delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine. Laughter and tears filled the room, and I was excited to share everyone’s joy in such a momentous time in history! We all knew that this would be the start of a new beginning,” Medrano, who works at the medical center’s department of hematology and hematopoietic cell transplantation, told the Asian Journal in an email.

Following the inoculation, Medrano was monitored for any allergic or adverse reactions. Hours after and into the next day, she reported experiencing tenderness at the injection site, generalized body aches and a low-grade fever.

The symptoms “were minimal enough” that she said she was cleared to return to work and see patients the day after.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which became the first mRNA vaccine approved for wide use, does not contain SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “An mRNA vaccine delivers the instructions for making a bacterial or viral protein to our cells. Our immune system then responds to these proteins and develops the tools to react to future infections with the pathogen,” according to Medical News Today.

Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center also began administering its vaccines to several medical staff — one of whom was Dr. Philip Mercado, chief of the hospital’s general surgery department.

“I am a firm believer in preventative care and vaccines. I was more than happy to receive the vaccine the first moment I could,” Mercado told the Asian Journal after receiving his vaccine on Thursday, December 18.

Dr. Philip Mercado, chief of the Department of General Surgery at Kaiser Permanente  Baldwin Park Medical Center, receives the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday, December 17. | Contributed photo

These health care professionals joined thousands across the country to be vaccinated this week, days after the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the vaccine.

They also represent a sample of Fil-Am medical professionals who continue to serve on the frontlines of the pandemic.

As previously reported, the Fil-Am community has been among the ethnic groups disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. One of the factors being the number of Fil-Ams who work in the medical field.

Nurses of Filipino descent comprise 4% of the country’s nursing population, but make up nearly a third of those who’ve died of the virus, according to a National Nurses United report released in September. But that toll has also extended to the community’s doctors, lab technicians and other workers providing critical services, though no exact statistics have been collected.

But what has made health care workers optimistic amid the grim numbers and defiance from members of the public is the belief that science will prevail.

“What gives me hope is when I see people respecting science. Conversely, what makes me sad is when people dismiss scientific facts. There are no such things as ‘alternate facts.’ Science is science,” Dr. Mercado said.

Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were distributed across hospitals in Southern California this week, including City of Hope. | Photo courtesy of City of Hope

California received 33,000 doses two days after the FDA’s authorization, and subsequently disbursed them down the state. The state, which is prioritizing high-risk health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, is expected to receive around 233,000 vaccines, fewer than previously announced.

In LA County, the campaign began on Monday, December 14 as five health care workers at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in East Hollywood kicked off vaccinations in the state.

The County Health Services announced that it would administer 10,000 vaccinations by New Year’s Eve; 6,000 of which are expected to be completed by Christmas. Frontline workers in high-intensity departments, such as ICUs and emergency rooms, would be prioritized at three county hospitals: LAC+USC Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Martin Reyes, a Fil-Am ICU nurse at LAC+USC Medical Center, got his jab as part of the initiative on Friday, December 18.

Once the vaccine is available for mass distribution —  projected by early next year — Reyes and other professionals encourage the greater Fil-Am community to do their research using reliable news and medical sources to determine whether to get the vaccine.

Fil-Am registered nurse Martin Reyes, who works in the ICU at LAC+USC Medical Center, received a COVID-19 vaccination on Dec. 18 as part of LA County Health Services’ effort to vaccinate more than 10,000 front line healthcare workers by the end of 2020. | Photo courtesy of the County of Los Angeles.

“Ano ang sasabihin ko sa mga kapwa ko Filipino na natatakot na makuha yun vaccine sa ngayon, hindi sila dapat matakot (What I want to tell my fellow Filipinos who are scared to get vaccinated is that there’s nothing to be afraid of),” Reyes said, adding, “Mas maraming tao na mas maging vaccinated, mas makakatulong ito para malaban ang COVID-19 (The more people who get vaccinated, the more it can help in the fight against COVID-19).”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine comes in two doses with the second to be administered 21 days later.

While recognizing that the vaccine is a step toward curbing the virus that has infected 17.3 million and killed over 312,000 individuals in the United States, health care professionals said they will continue to follow public health guidelines like wearing a mask and social distancing.

As Christmas is an important holiday for Filipino families, they also are reminding them that the risk of infection, especially in LA County, is still pervasive.

“My fellow Filipino Americans, please remember that ‘This too shall pass!’ I grew up in the Philippines and truly understand the importance of togetherness with family and close friends, especially during the holidays,” Medrano said. “However, the year 2020 is different, and we will come out of this stronger than before. In the meantime, let’s all take the time to be still!”

Christina M. Oriel
Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is the Managing Editor of the Asian Journal Weekly Newspapers.

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