UC Berkeley faculty, staff discuss COVID-19 vaccine safety, distribution

Image of COVID Vaccine
US Secretary of Defense/Creative Commons
During a Campus Conversations series virtual event, UC Berkeley faculty and staff discussed various aspects of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to Guy Nicolette, University Health Services assistant vice chancellor, campus will not currently make the vaccine mandatory for the campus community. (Photo by U.S. Secretary of Defense under CC BY 2.0)

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As UC Berkeley begins receiving shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, a panel of campus faculty and staff addressed various questions and concerns about the vaccine during a Campus Conversations series virtual event Friday.

The discussion, titled “The COVID Vaccines: UC Berkeley Experts Weigh In,” began with a reflection of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the development of the vaccine. The panel then explored topics such as the vaccine’s safety and efficacy and addressed challenges in vaccine distribution across campus.

“The good news is that science has done a remarkable job of getting us two, and soon, more safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines — in a remarkably short period of time — without making shortcuts on the safety side,” said Arthur Reingold, campus chair of the division of epidemiology, during the event. “Obviously, the challenge is the bureaucratic complexity of getting doses into arms.”

According to Anna Harte, medical director of University Health Services, or UHS, UC Berkeley has already received 700 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers as part of Phase 1a of campus’s vaccination plan. By next week, 200 more doses are expected to arrive, Harte added.

Harte noted that there are two main considerations when allocating vaccines. One is the likelihood that an individual gets infected and infects others through the work they do, and the other is the chance that an individual becomes ill if they do get infected.

Reingold said it should be a priority for the vaccine to reach high-risk populations and communities that are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“The first thing I would say is the value that we have is to get as many vaccines out there as quickly as possible, into as many people as possible, guided by these tiers and phases but applied in an equitable way,” Harte said during the event. “That sounds easy, but it’s very difficult.”

John Swartzberg, campus clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology, expressed optimism about the pandemic in the long term, noting that the Biden administration will improve vaccine distribution.

In response to concerns about the vaccine being rushed to the market, Reingold said the short-term data collected during the vaccine trials are comparable to that of other vaccines. Reingold added that most vaccines do not have long-term safety data and that collecting this kind of data is unrealistic.

Guy Nicolette, UHS assistant vice chancellor, noted that UC Berkeley will not currently make the vaccine mandatory for its community but urged everyone to take it.

“If you have access to a vaccine and you would be eligible under our rubric to receive a vaccine through UHS, don’t wait,” Nicolette said during the event. “We deliver the vaccines in the best way, the most controlled way and have great nurses and clinicians doing it.”

Contact Amudha Sairam at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AmudhaSairam.