A UCLA pediatrician and researcher named to a new state panel to review FDA-approved coronavirus vaccines said Wednesday that if COVID-19 mutates into something deadlier, people may be getting vaccinated against the respiratory disease each year -- along the lines of seasonal flu inoculations.
“I can picture a scenario where we may need to get a new vaccine each year as with flu, depending on how the virus mutates,'' Dr. Peter Szilagyi said. “This year's (virus) is a little different from last year's. And scientists will have to estimate what it will look like next year. We know it does mutate, but it hasn't so far mutated as much as flu does. But the question is, how will it look next year? We just don't know.”
On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom named Szilagyi and 10 other nationally known California physician scientists with expertise in immunization and public health to the state's COVID-19 Scientific Safety Review Workgroup that will independently review the safety and efficacy of any vaccine that receives U.S.
Food and Drug Administration approval for distribution.
While there is no proven vaccine for COVID-19 yet, the 11 health experts -- guided by the principles of safety, equity and transparency -- will review any vaccine that receives federal approval and verify its safety, before California makes a COVID-19 vaccine available to those most at risk to start, Newsom said.
The Review Workgroup is part of the state's initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, which was submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday. Many vaccine candidates are in clinical trials currently, and California is putting a system in place for the distribution and administration of vaccine as supply becomes available.
Szilagyi said that while it may seem conceivable to imagine making an appointment with one's physician and then showing up for a COVID-19 shot, at least one of the three vaccines now in clinical trials must be stored at temperatures so cold that few doctor's offices have the specialized freezers required.
However, another vaccine now being tested is stored at a temperature most doctor refrigerators can handle, he said.
Vaccination sites are expected to be in centrally located hospitals, pharmacies and perhaps mobile vans that have the specialized freezers, Szilagyi said.
The CDC is currently working on a plan to deliver the vaccine around the country once it becomes available.
Newsom said supplies will be limited initially and the first doses must go to health care workers, first responders and others who are especially vulnerable to the disease.
“While a small number of doses of an FDA-approved vaccine could be deployed before year's end, the reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us well into 2021 -- and widespread vaccine distribution likely won't occur for many more months,'' said Dr. Erica Pan, acting State Public Health Officer. “Across the country, states are seeing increases in COVID-19 transmission, but thanks to Californians' adherence to our public health
guidance and our slow and stringent reopening, that hasn't happened yet here in California. Let's keep it up -- wear a mask, keep physical distance, limit contact outside your household and wash your hands.''
The California Department of Public Health also encourages all persons 6 months of age or older to get vaccinated to protect from the flu this winter.