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Two unidentified men in face coverings come and go at the Holtville Post Office on Monday, Dec. 1. Life goes on for many people as a second wave of COVID-19 surges across the United States and is escalating rapidly in California. Soon, a limited amount of vaccine to prevent against coronavirus is expected to make its way to Imperial County for targeted groups at first, and to a wider population in the ensuing months. Members of the community are both hopeful and skeptical of a vaccine. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO

Community Considers the Potential of COVID-19 Vaccine

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Holtville resident Molly Estrada said she is hopeful for what a COVID-19 vaccine might mean, and ultimately, what it might prevent.

“There’s been a lot of deaths,” the 70-year-old Estrada said. “If they say it’s safe enough, then I’ll take it.”

Estrada and her family have experienced firsthand how devastating the pandemic can be as they continue to come to terms with the death of her younger sister, who died from coronavirus in late October.

“She was 68,” Estrada said. “That’s why I say it’s been hard for us.”

Based on her age, Estrada’s sister was among those individuals with increased risk of contracting severe illness from COVID-19. Older adults, individuals with certain underlying medical conditions, and those pregnant are all at an increased risk of severe illness from the virus, among others, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Estrada’s hope for a vaccine is a sentiment felt by many Americans who have been personally impacted by the death of a friend or loved one because of COVID-19.

Although most vaccines can take years to reach the general public, thanks to new guidelines released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which vets and approves new medical products, an emergency use authorization may soon allow for the use of two newly developed vaccines.

Through this FDA authorization typical protocols may be bypassed allowing for a new vaccine to be distributed if “the known and potential benefits of the product, when used to treat COVID-19, outweigh the known and potential risks of the product and that that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternative treatments,” according to FDA’s emergency use authorization statement.

Two companies are currently vying to have their COVID vaccines be the first approved in the United States. Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, filed for an emergency use authorization for their vaccine on Nov. 20. Only 10 days later, Moderna filed to have its vaccine be reviewed.

An unidentified man in a mask leaves the 7-Eleven convenience store in Holtville on Monday, Dec. 1. Life goes on for many people as a second wave of COVID-19 surges across the United States and is escalating rapidly in California. Soon, a limited amount of vaccine to prevent against coronavirus is expected to make its way to Imperial County for targeted groups at first, and to a wider population in the ensuing months. Members of the community are both hopeful and skeptical of a vaccine. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO

On Dec. 10 the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet to consider Pfizer’s EUA application for individuals age 16 and older, with an additional meeting planned for Dec. 17 to review Moderna’s vaccine application.

California is set to receive about 327,000 doses of vaccine shipped in the next week or so, to be available first to healthcare workers and first-responders who deal directly with the ill, such as paramedics and EMTs, in what public health officials are calling Phase 1A of a public vaccine distribution plan, according to Imperial County Public Health Officer, Dr. Stephen Munday.  

“I’m very happy to tell you that whenever it will be available for the retail pharmacy, we will be one of the locations to provide the vaccine,” said Anuj Shukla, pharmacist and owner of Parkers Pharmacy in Holtville.

Although Shukla understands that most first-line workers, first responders and others with an increased risk for the virus will be the first to receive any new COVID vaccine, he is determined his pharmacy will carry such a vaccine once it becomes available.

“We are expecting for the retail pharmacies, it will be available between March through May,” Shukla said.

Throughout much of the year, Shukla has come to learn all too well how the pandemic can impact his corner store pharmacy and the local customers that rely on his business.

“It was really hard for the older patients to take care of their medications as they couldn’t come into the pharmacy for counseling or any kind of questions,” Shukla said.

As a second wave of COVID-19 cases surge across the country, Shukla hopes more people will consider receiving a vaccine once it is available.

“I know the younger people have doubts about the vaccine,” Shukla said. “But that’s why we try to educate the people at the pharmacy that it is not for us.”

Shukla believes that the vaccine can significantly reduce the number of coronavirus carriers and in turn reduce the risk for those individuals COVID-19 can seriously affect.

“We don’t have to be careful for ourselves, we have to be careful for our family, especially for the kids and the older people,” Shukla said.

Holtville resident Karen Gibbs also shared Shukla’s thoughts on the potential vaccines having had family members and friends die from the virus.

“If it’s going to make us well and rid us of this coronavirus, I’m for it,” Gibbs said. “Coronavirus has taken too many lives.”

Other locals like Erick Burnworth of Burnworth Landscape, are apprehensive about taking a COVID-19 vaccine that has been rapidly approved.

“I’ve been debating this the past couple weeks and I don’t know,” Burnworth said. “If it was mass produced, then I would possibly consider it.”

Throughout much of the year, Burnworth’s landscaping business has had to deal with hesitant employees concerned to work during the pandemic.

“Finding good employment has been hard,” he said.

When it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine, Burnworth’s biggest concern is not knowing a lot about it and also feeling as though there are other individuals that would benefit more from the vaccine than himself.

“I think other people need it more,” he said.

Like Burnworth, Alexis Araujo of El Centro also held apprehensions about the vaccines given her need for more knowledge on the subject and their clinical trials.

“I don’t have any information on it, and I think everything is so new with what’s been going on,” Araujo said. “As of right now I am on the fence.”

As marketing manager of Payless Auto Insurance Broker, Araujo has spent much of the pandemic making sure staff and customers can continue with business as safe and healthy as possible.

“At the end of the day, we are completely relationship-based, so not being able to see our clients has been the majority of the effect we’ve had (from the coronavirus),” Araujo said. “In my head, I haven’t thought that far to a vaccine, because we’ve been working day-by-day, checking in at all of the offices and being there for anyone that needs support or encouragement.”

Calexico resident Daniela Flores can understand why people would be skeptical about a new COVID-19 vaccine, which is why she believes information is crucial for the community to be on board with receiving such a vaccine.

“There is obviously a lot of mistrust that started before the COVID-19 vaccine, but in order for us to be able to get our community to take the vaccine, information is going to be so important,” Flores said. “It’s important to know who is a part of these clinical trials that show this vaccine is effective.”

As a community healthcare researcher and local advocate, Flores understands how crucial vaccines have historically been to our survival and will likely continue to be as a second wave of coronavirus cases escalate.

“We know at the heart of our health history, people have been able to live longer thanks to vaccines,” she said. “I can understand why there might be some mistrust, but I would definitely take it.”

Her brother, Luis Flores, spokesperson for the Imperial Valley Equity and Justice Coalition that both help found at the onset of the pandemic, shared similar thoughts about the COVID vaccine based on his own research into the various vaccines being developed.

“I would take it, and I would encourage my parents who are older to take it,” he said. “From what’s out there, it does seem the vaccine is being put through the proper trials.”

With a COVID-19 vaccine potentially approved within the coming weeks, the Flores siblings hope initiatives are made to provide the community more information about the vaccine to allow the public the chance to fully understand its effectiveness.

“Although it’s going to be a new vaccine, it is so important that our communities understand the importance of vaccines to our society,” Daniela Flores said.