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Nurse battling COVID-19 may have contracted virus between vaccine doses

Published: Jan. 23, 2021 at 8:43 PM AKST
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CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) - A California emergency room nurse is fighting for his life after he tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized days after receiving his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

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 Dec. 22, he and his fellow nurse, Chris Pena, received their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and 17 days later, on Jan. 8, they returned for their second doses.

“He actually felt good that he could have that peace of mind,” Pena said.

Danny Plata, an emergency room nurse and single father of two, tested positive for COVID-19 and...
Danny Plata, an emergency room nurse and single father of two, tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized days after receiving his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.(Source: Chris Pena, KGTV via CNN)

A day later, Plata texted Pena about coming down with a 103-degree fever, followed by trouble breathing. In the next few days, Plata tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized. Less than a week later, he was placed on a ventilator.

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

Recently, Plata underwent extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a last-resort process where blood is pumped outside the body to receive oxygen.

Pena says it’s unclear where Plata contracted the virus, but he was caring for his father, who was also symptomatic. A GoFundMe campaign set up by Plata’s co-workers has raised more than $50,000 to help the family.

While Plata’s case is disheartening, Dr. Davey Smith, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at UC San Diego, says it doesn’t mean the COVID-19 vaccines are less effective than expected.

Plata became ill one day after receiving his second dose. Smith says it takes between two to eight weeks to receive the full benefit of that dose, which is 95% protection.

In between doses, which is when Smith believes Plata contracted the virus, there’s less protection for those exposed.

“It’s very clear he had that virus before he got that second dose of vaccine,” Smith said. “There’s still a reasonable chance – 50% – that we can still come down with the infection despite having that first vaccine.”

While Smith says Plata’s fever could have been a side effect of the vaccine, it did not lead to his illness.

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

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