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Vandenberg AFB to receive COVID-19 vaccine within the next month, wing commander says

In a Sept. 25, 2020 photo, Col. Anthony Mastalir, 30th Space Wing commander at at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., receives his annual flu shot from Senior Airman Robert Padilla, a 30th Health Care Operations Squadron aerospace medical technician. According to Mastalir, the base will soon be getting another kind of vaccine, for the coronavirus.

BRITTANY E. N. MURPHY/U.S. SPACE FORCE

By DAVE MINSKY | Santa Maria Times, Calif. | Published: November 18, 2020

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SANTA MARIA, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Doses of a COVID-19 vaccine fast-tracked for emergency use will arrive at Vandenberg Air Force Base and will be available within the next month, according to Air Force Col. Anthony Mastalir.

Up to 10,000 doses of the vaccine could be available at the base, said Mastalir, who commands the 30th Space Wing.

The vaccine was developed under a partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech, a German company, under Operation Warp Speed in which U.S. government officials placed an advanced $2 billion purchase order to manufacture 100 million doses.

Vandenberg AFB was among 15 Department of Defense installations to receive the vaccine, according to a base spokesman.

"This is the idea that we paid upfront. We, the American taxpayers, decided that it was important enough to fast-track vaccines," Mastalir said during a Facebook Live town hall meeting Nov. 6. "We paid upfront to multiple vendors to deliver, to continue to develop their vaccine and get it out for distribution as soon as possible."

The vaccine will be distributed under a plan that will prioritize certain individuals, including health-care workers, first responders, those in critical infrastructure jobs and "mission critical" members of the military, according to Mastalir.

The vaccine, which still is in the trial phase, was authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. Officials believe that immunizing at least 50% of the population will prevent community spread of the coronavirus.

Although the vaccine was fast-tracked, it still must meet the same criteria as if it were fully approved, but without the two years of follow-up data.

"Vaccines are key to limiting harm and promoting long-term return to public life and [a] normal economy," said Col. Jessica Spitler, commander of the 30th Medical Group. "I think that's something everyone wants to hear."

The vaccine will be administered in two shots, with the second shot coming 21 days after the first one.

Developers included virus mRNA, or a portion of the spike protein, which is the part that sticks out from the virus' shell and looks like a chicken leg or an ice cream cone, according to Spitler, who added that the vaccine doesn't contain the live virus.

After the vaccine is injected, it travels to the lymph nodes, where immune cells interact with the spike protein by creating antibodies, according to Spitler.

When a vaccinated person is exposed to the virus, the antibodies attack the virus, destroying it, and preventing person from becoming sick and spreading the virus.

By Oct. 12, the vaccine was administered to more than 30,000 people aged 12 to 85 years, with 37% of them in non-white populations, according to Spitler.

Side effects can include soreness, redness and swelling near the injection site, fatigue and occasional headaches.

The most severe side effect is fever and chills, which is more common in younger, healthy people and is a sign that the body is producing lots of antibodies, according to Spitler.

No safety concerns were found among 120 trial research sites, and no hospitalizations have occurred as a result of the vaccine, Spitler added.

Mastalir expects that, if the virus is effective, life will eventually return to precoronavirus days. He also encouraged people to do their own research on the vaccine.

"It's not going to be, 'Get a shot and woo-hoo! No masks, and I can whatever I want,'" Mastalir said, "but it's one step closer to that. Our intent, my intent, and the team's intent is to restore things to normal as quickly as as we can do so safely."

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