Across California, the COVID-19 vaccine is now available to all adults. It’s a hopeful time, as local cases and hospitalizations continue to fall.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to achieve “herd immunity” -- the point when a large part of the population is immune to the virus.

The path to herd immunity isn’t without challenges. Universal eligibility hasn’t translated into universal access, especially for rural or other hard-to-reach locations and individuals who are homebound.

According to CDC data, as of June 6 about 33 percent of the total population in San Bernardino County has been fully vaccinated. This is important progress, but to achieve herd immunity, public health officials have stated that approximately 80 percent of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated.

To help get more people vaccinated, Health Net partnered with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health to increase access to the vaccine. We’re doing this by deploying our mobile vaccination units to remote locations of the county and reaching those community members who need the vaccine the most through a series of pop-up clinics.

What’s important to know is that the Food and Drug Administration carefully reviewed safety data from the clinical trials and authorized vaccines only after measuring the benefits and risks. The bottom line? The vaccines currently available are safe and highly effective.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, under real-world conditions, full immunization with two doses of the two most common vaccines was 90 percent effective in preventing infection and 99 percent in preventing hospitalization.

Besides the safety and efficacy, it’s important for people to know what to expect when they receive a vaccine dose.

Two of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. (made by Moderna and Pfizer) require two doses administered three to four weeks apart. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine only requires a single dose. Recipients receive a reminder card, so they don’t forget their second shot.

Some people may run a slight fever after getting the vaccine, or experience chills, muscle aches, headache and fatigue, but this is completely normal. In fact, that’s a sign the vaccine is working as their bodies build immunity to fight off future COVID-19 exposures. Those side effects typically last 24 to 72 hours and then subside.

All of this is to say that the COVID-19 vaccine is the best path forward for safely returning to our lives.

At this point, “normal” probably won’t look exactly like it did before COVID-19, but there are moments and experiences that we can reclaim, such as safely seeing our friends and family, enjoying community events, and other activities.

By receiving the vaccine, California residents can limit the spread of the virus by preventing its transmission to friends and family so we can all get back to doing the things that make life good.

When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, ask questions and learn what you can. At Health Net, we encourage everyone to take an active role in their health and wellness, and this is no exception. Yes, there is information to digest, but the benefits to yourself, your family, and your friends make it worth it.

(Ramiro Zuniga, M.D., M.B.A., FAAFP, is the vice president, medical director, Medi-Cal at Health Net, whose network of 85,000 providers serve the health care needs of more than 3 million members across California.)

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