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San Diego nurse may have contracted COVID between vaccinations, doctor says

Experts says Pfizer vaccine is 50% effective between first and second doses
South Bay ER nurse fighting for his life after positive COVID test days after second vaccine dose
Posted at 4:38 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 21:31:58-05

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) - A South Bay ER nurse is fighting for his life, after he tested positive for COVID-19 days after receiving his second vaccine dose.

Since the pandemic began, Danny Plata, a single father of two, has been on the frontlines as an ER nurse at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

On December 22, friend and fellow nurse, Chris Pena, says he and Plata, 38, of Bonita, received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. 17 days later, on January 8, they returned for their second dose.

"He felt good that he could actually have the peace of mind," said Pena.

A day later, Pena says Plata texted him about coming down with a fever of 103 degrees, followed by trouble breathing. In the next few days, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized.

Less than a week later after being admitted, he was placed on a ventilator. Recently, he underwent ECMO, a last-resort process where blood is pumped outside his body to receive oxygen.

"Danny is highly reliable, skilled, loved. He's always lightening the mood," said Pena. "It’s up in the air and I’m just praying he’ll recover."

"It’s heartbreaking," said Dr. Davey Smith, UCSD Chief of Infections Diseases and Global Public Health. While Plata’s case is disheartening, it doesn’t mean vaccines are less effective than expected, according to Smith.

Plata became ill one day after receiving the second dose. Dr. Smith says its takes between two to eight weeks to receive the full benefit of the second dose, about 95% protection.

"With the incubation period ... it’s clear he had that virus before he got that second dose of vaccine," said Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith says Plata contracted the virus between doses, when there’s less protection if exposed.

"There’s still a reasonable chance -- 50% -- that we can still come down with the infection despite having that first vaccine," said Dr. Smith.

And what about the timing of that Plata’s fever, so soon after the vaccine dose?

Dr. Smith says while it’s possible it could have been a side effect, the vaccine did not lead to what happened next.

"It’s not a live vaccine. There is no way you can get COVID from any of the vaccines we have now," said Dr. Smith.

Pena says it's unclear where Plata contracted the virus, but Plata was caring for his father, who was also symptomatic.

A Gofundme campaign has been set up by Plata’s co-workers to help his family with expenses.