RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. - A Riverside County nurse who cares directly for COVID-19 patients tested positive for the virus though she received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and wants people to follow all safety protocols to prevent infections.
Kerry Cavazos, a registered nurse at Riverside Community Hospital, got the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on December 24. She tested positive for COVID-19 on January 7 after caring directly for a COVID-positive patient. She was scheduled to get her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday but was unable to due to her diagnosis.
Cavazos said the efficacy rate for the vaccine with one dose is around 60%. Data shows the rate goes up to 95% with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
"Today [Tuesday] is day five from my positive test, and on day three, I thought I was going to die. It was the most devastating feeling. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath. It is a really scary thing to have COVID and the fear of am I going to be one of those people who don't recover, am I going to give it to my mom or my husband," said Cavazos.
Cavazos said her hospital, Riverside Community Hospital, has been hit hard by the virus and is short-staffed to no fault of the hospital.
"The National Guard is at our hospital. They have pitched in and their medics have shown up to help in our ED [emergency department]. We have numbers through the roof and yet we [medical staff] are still working hard," she said.
Cavazos believes she got the virus from a COVID-positive patient who was coding at the hospital.
"I rushed in that room like I would normally do. I had a mask on [N-95]. I had a shield on. We crashed her and intubated her and I was in complete exposure and that sneaky little COVID got through my mask and my shield. I would walk in that room again today even knowing what I know now how bad covid is. She needed our help. Her baby needed our help and we were there to save her," said Cavazos.
Cavazos said the vaccine is not "100% foolproof."
"I'm not saying the vaccine did not work. I just want you to know that some of us still got COVID after getting vaccinated with our first dose. I'm sure the vaccine's going to work for most people but I just want you to remember that some of us are getting sick still with the first vaccine," she said.
Anne Rimoin, a Professor of Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said there is still a learning curve, but both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are very effective with two doses.
"You have to make sure to get both doses and to be able to benefit from the full protective immunity that these vaccines provide. Getting vaccinated is going to be a huge step, but there are several weeks after that first shot in the arm that will have to pass before you can feel the benefit of truly being protected against this virus from what we know today," said Rimoin.
Rimoin said it's unknown if people can still transmit the virus with asymptomatic symptoms after being vaccinated.
"Both vaccines [Pfizer and Moderna], seem to reduce the risk of severe Covid disease, but it's not known whether or not it prevents asymptomatic infection or if vaccinated people can transmit the virus," she said.
Rimoin said we also don't know about immunity yet.
"We don't know how long the immunity [of the vaccine] will last. Moderna thinks that it might last up to a year which is great news, but we don't know at this point," said Rimoin.
Like other vaccinations, there's still a chance people can get COVID-19 after taking both doses of the vaccine.
"There's a small chance that you could become infected after reaching your full level of immunity and everybody's immune system is different so it will depend on your own immune system," said Rimoin.
Rimoin said it will also be important to continue following precautions even after receiving the vaccine.
"We have two vaccines currently available that are very effective, very low level of side effects, but you have to make sure that after you get the vaccine, that you still are vigilant, wearing a mask, social distancing, hand hygiene, avoiding groups because until you get that second dose and you've waited the period, that seven, or 14 day period depending on the vaccine that you've gotten, you do not have the benefit of the full protection from these vaccines," she said.
Cavazos said she wants to make sure people know the virus is real and it's important to follow the guidelines.
"People need to have compassion for humanity. We need to make sure that people realize that by jeopardizing yourself, you jeopardize me and my family because now you have COVID because you don't think you need to wear a mask. The emotional drain on the nurses is real. We are emotionally drained like PTSD, the fear of this," she said.
Cavazos lives with her husband, and said they have been practicing social distancing and sanitizing all surfaces, and he tested negative for the virus on Tuesday.
"That was a big deal and a big win so it's possible with all the things people recommend, if you do it, you can stay safe, six feet apart, wear your mask, wash your hands and we can get through this together," said Cavazos.