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Vandenberg AFB to receive trial COVID-19 vaccines

Col. Anthony Mastalir announced the pending arrival of the vaccines through a virtual town hall.

As coronavirus cases continue to rise across the U.S. and the Central Coast, officials at Vandenberg Air Force Base say it will be one of the first places to receive a new COVID-19 vaccine in the next few weeks.

“Vandeberg is lucky enough to have been selected among the handful of bases that are going to receive these vaccines first,” Vandenberg Col. Anthony Mastalir said, announcing the impending arrival of up to 10,000 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine during a virtual town hall.

But he said the vaccine won't be widely available.

“There is a prioritization that 'Operation Warp Speed' has given us," Mastalir said, refering to the public-private effort to develop, produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine as quickly as possible. "As you can imagine, we are going to start with our health care workers, folks that manage critical infrastructure. We are going to look at certainly military members who are working in an operational 24/7 mission critical-type center.”

Mastalir said the vaccine will be optional for military members, but noted the policy could change.

“Because it's emergency authorization use, it’s not going to be mandatory," Mastalir said. "That’s as it stands right now.”

On Monday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced their vaccine had proven to be more than 90 percent effective. Vandenberg Col. Jessica Spitler said the vaccine will be administered as shots in the arm in two doses, at least 21 days apart. 

“There has been no reported hospitalizations or severe side effects with this vaccine so far," Spitler said. "There have been no safety concerns from any of the 120 trial research sites that have caused any type of pause in trial enrollment.”

Mastalir said health officials estimate they need to vaccinate at least 50 percent of the community to achieve herd immunity.

“My hope is that we will help vaccinate not just the service members," Mastalir said. "But all beneficiaries of the local community here.”

How soon Vandenberg could ease pandemic restrictions, such as mask wearing and social distancing, will take time as they monitor the progress after vaccines are administered. 

“My intent, and our team's intent is to restore things back to normal as quickly as we can do so safely," Mastalir said. "So this is one step closer to that end.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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