Alan Kumamoto and Hannah Komai Perez, a nurse pediatric hematology/oncology at City of Hope, receive their first COVID-19 vaccine.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Alan Kumamoto got quite a birthday present — the first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Kumamoto, 81, and his wife Jo Ann both were able to sign up online to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the El Sereno Recreation Center last week.

A line of about 50 people waited to receive the vaccine; he said the process was efficient and that the actual jab was quick and painless. Afterwards, Kumamoto’s arm was a little sore but otherwise he felt fine.

“You’re happy emotionally that you’re starting a process, but the process is not complete. The reason I say that is you need the second vaccine. For me, that’s not until Feb. 18,” Kumamoto said.

Dr. Erica Pan of the California Department of Public Health said the vaccines represent “the light at the end of the tunnel,” but urged the public to remain vigilant and continue to follow safety protocols.

“We’re working around the clock to speed up the vaccination process, while emphasizing fair and equitable distribution,” Pan said.

One year since the first COVID-19 case was reported in L.A. County, the State of California is emphasizing education and outreach within the Asian American communities on the safety and necessity of the vaccine to end the pandemic.

On a recent Zoom conference call, Steve Kang of the Koreatown Youth and Community Center expressed concern that the spread of disinformation and mistrust could have a negative impact on API communities. Kang noted that Filipinos, Vietnamese and Native Hawaiians have seen disproportionately high cases and deaths.

As of Monday, there have been 42,924 COVID cases and 1,891 deaths among Asian Americans, and 3,917 and 67 deaths within Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

“I watch those in the Asian Pacific community raise questions about the vaccine, feeling nervous or untrusting about what they are being told. What we want everyone to understand is that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and will save our lives, but it only will end this health crisis if more of us in our community receive it,” Kang said.

More than a million Californians have already received the COVID-19 vaccine free of charge according to prioritized phases under the Vaccinate All 58 effort encompassing every California county.

Those in Phase 1A, health care workers and long-term care residents, will continue to be vaccinated as additional phases are entered. Individuals aged 65 and older were recently added to those now approved to receive the vaccine along with those at risk of exposure at work in education, childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture.

Hannah Koma Perezi, a registered nurse in pediatric hematology/oncology at City of Hope, received her second dose on Jan. 8. Besides treating young cancer patients, She is a cancer survivor herself.

“I’m so grateful to work at a facility that was able to mass vaccinate a large amount of staff ranging from nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists to housekeeping and valet,” Perez said. “I’m incredibly grateful for science and hoping that there’s an end in sight.”

Perez said that not having family visits has been a hardship for the cancer patients.

“Cancer treatment is hard as it is, let alone by yourself. We’ve learned to integrate Facetime and phone calls to keep family members in the loop,” she said. “Also insuring that when we have a bit of extra time that we try and support our patients as best as we can.”

Erica Pan, M.D., MPH, California state epidemiologist, urged the public to continue to follow the four W’s: wash your hands, wear your mask,watch your distance, and work together to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The early rollout for the COVID-19 vaccine has been frustrating for many trying to make appointments and finding reservations unavailable. Public health officials urged patience, saying the slow pace will continue due to limited supply and the need to administer the second doses to those who have already received their first shot.

Yumi Uono, a singing instructor, said she wants to get vaccinated as soon as possible. An organizer for the Himawari Karaoke Club, she wants to begin preparing for her group’s 30th anniversary show that had to be canceled last October due to COVID. So far, she has been unable to make an appointment at her local Kaiser facility. She does not use a computer and feels the online appointment system is difficult.

Those without Internet access can call (833) 530-0473, but L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer encouraged those with computer access to book their appointments online. Appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations at the county-operated sites have been filled for this week.

On Monday, the state unveiled, which allows people to input their basic information and learn if they are currently available to receive a vaccination and, if so, allow them to schedule an appointment.

Medical expert Dr. Tan Duong offered assurances that the vaccine is safe and effective in slowing the spread of the disease that has claimed more than 400,000 lives nationwide.

His 75-year-old father, a practicing physician, received the vaccine and experienced some soreness in his arm, but is still working and seeing patients.

“Many clinical trials were conducted in line with rigorous Federal Drug Administration guidelines, and the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were verified. Clinical trials included a diverse mix of participants across the U.S. from different races and ethnic groups, medical conditions, and ages,” Duong said.

— Additional reporting by TOMOKO NAGAI

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