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San Diego pediatrician serving on state's COVID vaccine safety panel

"I am optimistic that we are going to have a vaccine that will work," said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children's Hospital.

SAN DIEGO — As a number of coronavirus vaccine trials continue nationwide, safety continues to be a major concern. On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a special independent panel of top California doctors and scientists, charged with reviewing any COVID-19 vaccine before it is rolled out for distribution statewide.

California is one of five jurisdictions nationwide now doing advance planning with the CDC for vaccine distribution.

Gov. Newsom said when it comes to determining the safety of a vaccine, though, California will make up its own mind.

"Of course, we don't take anyone's word for it," Newsom said. "We will do our own independent review process with our world-class experts." 

Sitting on the 11-member statewide scientific safety review workgroup is Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.

"I think the governor is looking at this as an independent group who can review all the data and reassure the community that the data that has been gathered in putting together these vaccine trials is good and that we can count on it," Dr. Sawyer said. 

That reassurance from these renowned experts will hopefully translate to Californians getting the vaccine once it is available.

"I am optimistic that we are going to have a vaccine that will work and I don't want people to be afraid to get it," Dr. Sawyer added. 

Sawyer also said the first question that needs to be answered is whether a vaccine works in actually preventing COVID-19 infection.

"Equally important, or even more important," Dr. Sawyer added. "Is the vaccine safe?"

Exactly when a vaccine might be readily available still remains a major question.

Monday, Governor Newsom said that preliminary supplies could potentially allow one to two million Californians -- most likely health workers and first responders--  to get vaccinated before the end of the year.

"These limited doses will be for limited numbers of people," Newsom said at his Monday press conference. "We do not anticipate mass availability until 2021." 

Also an issue: prioritizing who gets the vaccine after health workers and first responders, such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

Children, according to Dr. Sawyer, would likely be on the lower end of the priority list.

"Not because they are not important. I am a pediatrician," Dr. Sawyer said. "But because they do not get very seriously ill with COVID as a generalization, so they are going to be the last group to roll out the vaccine; sometime in the middle or second half of next year, I would expect."

Sawyer also said that he urges everyone in the meantime - and even after a vaccine is available -  to continue wearing a mask and social distancing, explaining that while we know that works, we still do not know if a vaccine will work.

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