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Historic day: First coronavirus vaccines administered at hospitals across Bakersfield

One local doctor called the vaccine a dagger to the back of the coronavirus.

A hospital president said Thursday was an important date in the history of the community, representing a light of hope at the end of a very long tunnel.

Hospitals across Bakersfield administered the first doses of the newly arrived coronavirus vaccine to several executives, physicians and hospital staff as front-line hospital workers applauded and cheered Thursday.

“We should go for it — all of us,” said Dr. Arash Heidari, director of the Infectious Disease Fellowship at Kern Medical, and possibly the first person in Bakersfield to be immunized with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“The more people who are immunized,” Heidari said, “the sooner the pandemic will end.”

The vaccine Heidari received was administered at Kern Medical by the hospital’s senior pharmacist Jeff Jolliff, who called Heidari “a true hero” for the work he’s been doing since the outbreak of the pandemic.

It only took seconds to inject the vaccine, and as he finished, Jolliff said, “You are vaccinated.”

After nine months of enduring the pandemic and the lockdowns, restrictions, fears and losses, the arrival of the vaccine registered as historic to many, especially medical professionals who have seen it up close, who have watched as patients and even colleagues came down with the highly contagious and sometimes deadly illness.

Later in the afternoon, Mercy’s President and CEO Bruce Peters became the first at Mercy to receive the vaccination from registered nurse Kim Walker.

Peters said he went first because he doesn’t want to ask hospital staff to do something he’s not willing to do. And he wants the community to know it’s safe.

The vaccine is administered in two doses, three weeks apart, so Peters and all others who get the shot must go back for a second injection.

“The benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks,” said Peters.

Commonly reported side effects include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever, according to the FDA, which authorized the vaccine for persons 16 years of age and older.

“Even after you get the vaccine, it’s important to stay masked,” said Peters, who added that he will continue to abide by guidelines.

“The vaccine has been shown to be 94 percent effective,” he said. “That means for 6 in 100 people it’s not going to be effective.”

“It’s important to continue to follow the guidelines,” he said.

Dr. Brij Bhambi, Bakersfield Heart Hospital’s medical director, became the first person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at that hospital on Thursday.

And ICU nurse Lucy Valdovinos-Barrison was the first nurse at the hospital to receive the vaccine.

But Bakersfield Heart Hospital went much further Thursday, vaccinating 75 doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who have potential for exposure to patients or infectious materials.

There was also a sense of relief at Adventist Health Bakersfield after the downtown hospital received its first shipment of vaccines. Dr. Ronald Reynoso, market medical officer for Adventist Health Bakersfield and Tehachapi Valley, said the vaccine represents hope around the world.

“We’re excited about the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine — it provides that hope everyone in Kern County and the world has wanted,” Reynoso said in a statement. “We are honored for our caregivers to be among the first to receive the vaccine as we protect our front-line staff and continue to care for our patients.

“We look forward to the vaccine being given more widely in the community as well,” he said.

Scott Thygerson, Kern Medical’s president, hospital and clinic operations, said the east Bakersfield hospital has been providing medical care to Kern residents for 150 years. And Thursday was one of those dates that will be remembered as historic.

Said Thygerson, “It’s one of those momentous days in our community.”