Capitol Public Radio

Interview: State Sen. Richard Pan On What California's Vaccine Distribution May Look Like

December 2, 2020

Sacramento-area state Sen. Dr Richard Pan says he's cautiously optimistic about a coronavirus vaccine arriving soon in California now that Britain has approved a vaccine from drugmaker Pfizer.  

"It's not a magic bullet," Pan said Wednesday on CapRadio's Insight. "We still need to do the masks and the distance and so forth, but it will get us to a place where we can reopen our schools, get our businesses open."

On Monday Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state has 327,000 initial doses on the way. Pan, who is also a pediatrician, said California will need to prioritize getting the vaccine to high-risk populations.

"The Latino population, the black population as well have higher death rates," Pan said. "The Pacific Islander population has experienced higher death rates, so it's important that we reach out to those communities."

Pan said that the state will also need to work with trusted community leaders to distribute vaccines to those in communities who don’t live near pharmacies or hospitals. He also stressed that people ask doctors and medical care providers as many questions as possible to understand the inoculation as best as possible.


Interview Highlights

On getting people to trust the vaccine is safe and effective

It’s so important that the FDA and the CDC (US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are very transparent about the vaccine, including the potential side effects of the vaccine. So, we have heard that some people will have symptoms like fevers and other types of symptoms. They’ll be temporary. There’s no long-term effect that we know about the vaccine, but it may have people not be able to work the next day.

And since it’s a two-shot vaccine, we need to be sure people understand this so that if they have those symptoms for the first shot, that they’re not going to refuse the second one. The other thing is that it’s very important to combat misinformation or even disinformation from people who unfortunately make money or thrive on trying to discourage people against public health.

I tell people it’s very important to ask questions. You have questions; please ask them, but also please listen to the answers … That’s how we’re going to build public confidence in the vaccine, but the vaccine certainly has to prove itself in terms of the data that’s out there and ensure people have confidence in this vaccine.

On herd immunity and how it works

Well, herd immunity — or as I like to call it, “community immunity” — is when you have a sufficient percentage of people who are immune, and therefore vaccinated against the disease, that the virus really has no place to go.

Given how contagious the virus is and how effective the vaccine is, it means that we have enough people vaccinated, that [if] that virus infects someone [it] is unlikely to infect another person, and therefore protecting everyone in the community, even people who are not vaccinated.

Many experts are saying probably around 70- to 80% of people getting vaccinated may start achieving this level of immunity. I would point out that we need to have 95% [of the population vaccinated against] measles, which is highly contagious, despite having a very effective vaccine.

So we’re talking about 70%. We’re talking about a California which has 40 million people getting about 27 to 28 million people vaccinated to keep that level of immunity.


On people who want to wait out the first rounds of vaccinations to gauge the effects 

First of all, the number of vaccines we’re going to get out, in the beginning, is hardly enough to get everyone vaccinated. So I would point out, one, Gov. [Gavin] Newsom announced we’re going to get over 300,000 doses of vaccines. That’s not even enough to cover all the health care workers who work in hospitals and who are the first priority people [to] get vaccines.

So you have to double the number of doses [because the vaccine regimen requires two shots]. When I said 27 million people need to be vaccinated in California to get community immunity, you got to double that for the number of doses.


On if the state or local providers and pharmacies will distribute the vaccine

The state plan involves established providers because that’s where the level of trust is … We want to also be sure people have familiar settings to get the vaccine in as well. [At] the same time, we also have to look at different ways of getting people the vaccine where there are going to be populations that don’t have strong access to what we might consider more traditional places. 

One of the things that are going to be particularly important is that we prioritize getting the vaccine to populations which are highest at risk. We know essential workers are highest at risk. Then also, communities which traditionally have had lower access to health care are also higher risk as well.


On vaccine distribution and racial equity

When we talk about equity, we mean stepping back and recognizing those inherent disadvantages we’ve built into the [health care] system for some of these communities. 

Some of these communities already have poor access to health care because whether they have fewer practices located there, fewer pharmacies, other types of things.

We also need to think that in those communities, where are the levels, communication, and trust built in those communities? And reaching out to those particular leaders. What’s the most effective strategy in order to both community about and to get people access to the vaccine so that everyone has truly equal access to the vaccine.


On optimism about the vaccine and predicted outcomes

I’m cautiously optimistic. I have tremendous faith in our community, certainly here in Sacramento and in California, so let’s see what the data is on the vaccine.

It’s not a magic bullet ... we still need to do the masks and the distance and so forth, but it will get us to the place where we can reopen our schools, get our businesses open. Let’s all work to make that happen.