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The ‘speed of trust’: California wants statewide panel to review any COVID vaccine

Gov. Gavin Newsom says Californians need to have confidence in a vaccine, and the state will have a review process regardless of which presidential candidate wins.
Credit: AP
A syringe containing the first shot given in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, rests on a table, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

CALIFORNIA, USA — Coronavirus vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in coming months will not be distributed in California until a statewide panel of health experts can ensure they meet safety requirements, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday.

While there is no vaccine available yet, California and other states have been gearing up for its eventual distribution. On Friday, California sent a draft of its vaccination plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the draft, state officials said a scientific safety review workgroup, made up of immunization and public health experts from agencies and universities across the state, will help “ensure public confidence in vaccine safety, efficacy, and implementation efforts.”

Other states also have created committees to review any coming vaccine in response to concerns that the Trump administration might rush the regulatory approval process.

“Of course, we don’t take anyone’s word for it,” Newsom said, in a nod to the politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This vaccine plan will move at the speed of trust. You have to have confidence in the efficacy of the vaccine, confidence that we’re not rushing to judgment in terms of its distribution and its accessibility,” Newsom said. 

In response to a reporter’s question, Newsom said the review group process will stand even if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the election.

Today, a new survey from STAT and The Harris Poll showed 58% of people in the U.S. said they would get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as the vaccine became available — that’s down from the 69% who said the same thing in mid-August, possibly indicating a growing mistrust among the general public. Only 43% of Blacks said they’d get the vaccine as soon as it was ready compared to 59% of white respondents, according to the poll.

In the summer, California was tapped by federal health officials to help plan for a large-scale rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine as early as Nov. 1. Some public health experts pushed back on the idea that a vaccine could be ready for safe distribution by then.

The drug company Pfizer is expected to have one of the first coronavirus vaccines. If its vaccine proves effective, safe and can be consistently manufactured, the company would apply for emergency use authorization in the third week of November, CEO Albert Bourla said in an open letter last week.  

But even if ready in this calendar year, Newsom said, supply is expected to be limited and, just like previously with coronavirus diagnostic testing, people who are considered high risk would be first in line. 

In one projection, Newsom said that about 45 million doses could be ready for national distribution by the end of this year. California would only get a percentage of these, and each person will likely need two doses. Health workers and first responders would be prioritized, followed by people with high risk of becoming severely ill if infected, according to the state’s vaccination plan. 

To the rest of Californians: Don’t anticipate getting a vaccine at your local pharmacy anytime this year, Newsom said. 

Newsom also acknowledged that the state will need to work through some logistical hurdles. Some of the prospective vaccines will need to be stored in cold or “ultra cold” spaces, and their administration would require additional supplies of needles, alcohol pads, bandages and more face masks as doses become available.

CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation.