CA epidemiologist on schools as vax sites for kids, holiday safety, and possible winter surge

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

California is trying to smoothly roll out a version of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5-11 that the CDC green-lit nearly a week ago.

Schools are great vaccination partners, says Dr. Erica Pan, California’s state epidemiologist and deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases. So far, she says more than 700 schools have reached out to the state for more information to set up vaccination sites on-campus. 

“It's [a] great idea [when] you are bringing the vaccine to the people, so that access is not the barrier,” she tells KCRW. “It's another nice opportunity for other family members who have not yet gotten their vaccine or can get boosters to come all at once together, and just make it as convenient as possible.”

Pan points out that the new COVID-19 vaccine is formulated to be stored in refrigeration for up to 10 weeks — as opposed to being in ultra-cold freezers like before. She says that’s another barrier that’s been eliminated and will aid in the vaccine rollout for kids. 

She adds that once the treatment receives full FDA approval, a vaccine mandate will be put into place for kids ages 5-11 and ages 12-15. 

Meanwhile, the state is still grappling with misinformation, and now it’s a matter of working with trusted community leaders to help inform Californians, she points out.

“It is really unfortunate to see these preventable deaths and this divide continuing. And I think we need to continue to improve confidence. We have to decrease the misinformation that has been really problematic,” Pan says.

Meanwhile, starting today in the City of LA, people must show proof of full COVID vaccination at most indoor public places, such as restaurants, gyms, hair salons, and movie theaters. Businesses that don’t follow the rules will face fines starting at $1,000 — following a warning. The city is giving businesses until the end of the month to comply before it starts imposing those fines.

As the holiday season approaches, everyone who is eligible should be vaccinated, party goers should get tested before hanging out, and indoor spaces should be well ventilated, she advises. If everyone at a gathering is vaccinated, it can be an extremely low-risk environment, she adds.

But could there be another surge this winter? She says she’s concerned about that potential, and hospital capacity is low right now partly due to the routine cold and flu season. 

“We are concerned. I think that is why we want to continue to get more people vaccinated, get more people boosted, continue to wear masks in high-risk settings indoors. All of those things are going to help us prevent a winter surge,” Pan says.