UC Berkeley professor named chair of state COVID-19 vaccine advisory group

Arthur Reingold

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UC Berkeley School of Public Health professor Arthur Reingold was named chair of the Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, which was created Monday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to advise the state on the safety and equity of COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

The group, which consists of 11 California scientists, will independently review any Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines before the state makes them available for distribution. According to Reingold, there are at least a couple of vaccine trials in advanced stages in the United States.

“What we aspire to do, in a very transparent manner, is to provide additional information to the people of California about what we know about safety and what we can do to ensure equitable access,” Reingold said. “That’ll be substantially important in making sure we get the vaccine to people who need it, irrespective of their social class or where they live.”

Equitably distributing the vaccine, especially when it comes to underrepresented minorities and people who live in rural areas, will be important, according to campus nutritional sciences and toxicology professor Marc Hellerstein, who studies T-cells and their importance to a COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Hellerstein, people in these groups often suffer from higher rates of diabetes, obesity, heart and lung disease, common forms of cancer, hypertension and other conditions that increase the risk of serious COVID-19 infection. This “confluence of epidemics” makes it especially important that whoever conducts trials studies underrepresented minorities and other high-risk groups.

Both Reingold and Hellerstein also pointed to the public’s acceptance of a vaccine as a potential barrier to its distribution.

“The vaccine is ultimately the only solution,” Hellerstein said. “It has to be done right. It would be very easy to do this wrong and to damage Americans’ faith in vaccines, which are arguably the greatest advancement in medical history. This is a high-stakes effort.”

Since there is no COVID-19 vaccine available yet, Reingold emphasized the importance of people continuing to follow public health precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands.

Reingold said he expects that when the group is able to analyze vaccination data it will come to a “unanimous view.”

Contact Anishi Patel at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anishipatel.