The first local recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine -- all of whom are high-risk health care workers at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center (ARMC) in Colton -- are delivering a consistent message to San Bernardino County residents: adverse reactions from the medicine are minimal, and virtually everyone should take advantage of the vaccine when given the opportunity in the upcoming months.
“I feel great, with absolutely no side effects,” said Dr. Carol Lee, program director for the Department of Emergency Medicine’s residency program. “I found it less painful than the routine flu vaccination I get every year."
Dr. Lee said her experience is common.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people about the vaccinations and I personally don’t know anyone who has suffered severe side effects -- or any type of side effect, for that matter. Millions of doses have been given worldwide, and the incidence of side effects is extremely low,” she noted.
Dr. Danny Fernandez, an emergency room physician in his second year of residency, had a similar experience. “I feel as fine as I did before [getting the shot],” he said.
“This is similar to other vaccines we take, and [getting vaccinated] is an easy process -- not something to be feared,” said Dr. Fernandez, who considered it “an honor to be among the first recipients” of the vaccine.
Dr. Eman Ahmad, a family practice physician who specializes in geriatrics (the area of medicine focusing on the elderly), experienced some slight tenderness at the injection site on her arm but otherwise suffered no side effects.
“I’ve never had any adverse reactions from any of the vaccines I’ve received,” she said, and claimed the shot was comparable to the flu vaccine, though “perhaps with fewer symptoms.”
She is encouraging everyone who doesn’t have specific contraindications (e.g., history of severe allergic reactions) to get the vaccine.
“We need to save as many lives as possible,” she said. “If we are able to vaccinate as many people in the community as possible ... we’ll have immunity and help decrease the spread of the virus, [while reducing] mortality and morbidity.”
Dr. Nidal Rafeedi, who has been treating patients for more than two decades, is currently assistant director of respiratory care. Dr. Rafeedi, who “considers himself fortunate” to be one of the first to be vaccinated, has also avoided side effects from the vaccination.
“I feel fantastic. I’ve had no effects at all, other than a little soreness -- just like I normally get from a flu shot. I’m sleeping well and have had no fever," he said.
Dr. Rafeedi was diagnosed with leukemia as a child, and as a result underwent radiation and chemotherapy. That experience, he said, has led him to “trust medicine” -- and he urged others to do so as well.
“[The vaccine] is something that will end the pandemic, so I’m asking the community to trust medicine, and to trust science. Let’s end this so that we can celebrate together with a great summer," he said.
All of the doctors agreed that residents should continue following the preventative measures health experts have promoted the past several months: avoid unnecessary contact with individuals outside your household. Maintain social distancing. Wear a mask when in the vicinity of others. And wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.
And all agreed with Dr. Lee, who said county residents should not hesitate when offered the medication: “So please: go get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”