by Photo courtesy of Dr. Erica Pan

California’s State Epidemiologist and Deputy Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases, Dr. Erica Pan, addressed frequently asked questions surrounding vaccines, testing, Omicron, and more at Jan.20 news briefing, organized by Ethnic Media Services and the Vaccinate All 58 initiative.

Since the onset of the pandemic, California has operated a call line for residents to raise their questions relating to COVID-19 since it's launch by Gov. Gavin Newsom. As the state’s top-ranking epidemiologists, a pediatric disease specialist and expert on COVID-19, Dr. Pan answered several of those questions.  

Dr. Pan addressed the continued surge in positive COIVD-19 case rates and hospitalizations, which has brought unprecedented levels of transmission. As of Jan.19, the state has seen over 15,000 hospitalized with  COVID-19, and a 20.9 percent positive case rate. 

“It is all of our responsibilities to do what we can to slow the spread of COVID 19 and end the pandemic,” Dr. Pan said.

How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

“Like other vaccinations, these vaccines teach our body’s immune system to fight against infection. Scientists have made the COVID-19 vaccines by using part of the virus’s genetic code, either a messenger RNA (mRNA) or DNA, depending on the type of vaccine. Once inside the cell, this piece of the genetic code gives instructions to make a small, harmless piece of the COVID-19 virus called the spike protein. Our body notices the spike protein, and the immune system makes antibodies to destroy the spike proteins. This process teaches your body how to recognize and fight against the virus. If you are exposed to the virus in the future, even currently circulating variants of the virus, your immune system will quickly recognize the virus and have the antibodies and T-cells ready to fight infection,” Dr.Pan said. 

How effective are the vaccines against the new variants we are seeing?

“The risks of hospitalization and death remain high for unvaccinated individuals, so the most important thing we need to continue to do is to get vaccinated and get boosted. All three available COVID-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Though, the California Department of Public Health recommends that you receive Pfizer or Moderna vaccines over Johnson and Johnson is available,” Dr. Pan said. 

What are the benefits of receiving the vaccine, even though you could still contract COVID-19? 

“Getting vaccinated and getting boosted helps keep you out of the hospital by lowering the severity of positive cases, help keep Californians off ventilators, and save lives. We are learning more and more about Long Covid and the range of lingering health problems that people can experience for weeks and months after getting even a mild case of the virus. So protecting yourself from the worst of the virus, and preventing its spread to those at high risk or who can't get the vaccine,” Dr. Pan said. 

Does receiving a vaccine or booster eliminate the need for further harm-reduction precautions like wearing a mask or social distancing?

“No. Even with a booster dose, harm reduction precautions are still prudent to keep all Californians safe. Vaccines are not 100 percent effective, and some groups are not yet eligible for the vaccine, like kids under five, so taking harm reduction precautions such as wearing a face mask helps protect them from contracting COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill,” Dr. Pan said.

Is it helpful to get as stated the results take so long?

"I know this is incredibly frustrating right now. The increase in testing volume and testing demand has slowed down the turnaround time, similar to other challenges. There are staffing issues even in the laboratories. I do think it's useful, especially if you have symptoms. As long as you are staying at home while you're waiting on those tests," Dr. Pan said. 

How do we know booster doses are safe?

“Booster doses went through the same thorough scientific review process as the initial vaccine series, with trial data from all over the world being reviewed and considered when making a recommendation. The vaccines, including booster doses, are proven safe. Getting a booster shot is the best way to keep your immunity strong and protect you and your loved ones from being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19, including from the fast-spreading Omicron variant. Californians should go out and get themselves, and their children boosted to maximize their protection against variants. The state has ample vaccine supply, so don’t wait – get your booster today,” Dr. Pan said.  

Are boosters safe for pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding

“Pregnant women are at higher risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19 infection, and their fetuses as well, so we have continued to see the increasing concern. The benefits far outweigh the potential risks, as far as COVID-19. If I were pregnant, I would definitely get vaccinated, and it is definitely safe for breastfeeding women as well,” Dr. Pan said. 

Are vaccines safe for children that young to receive, and are there side effects?

"There have been comprehensive studies for more than 4,500 children ages five to 11 that demonstrate that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in this age group. It resulted in strong antibody response in children who received the vaccine, and the COVID-19 vaccine was found to be safe. with only mild side effects. like fatigue, fever, and headache. And the nation's immunization is all of these reports may fall under the COVID-19 vaccine, serious side effects are rare and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risk," Dr. Pan said. 

She continued:

"There have been rare reported cases of the heart muscle; it's just myocarditis and pericarditis per second half of the week after receipt of the second dose of an mRNA vaccine. The cases have generally occurred in young adults and people's medical commitments, or we received features in infectious disease that has much more section go pericarditis sometimes a week after receiving the second dose of mRNA vaccine. Cases have generally occurred in young adults, men, and people with certain medical conditions or recent medical procedures. In contrast, COVID-19 disease can cause more severe myocarditis than cases rarely seen after immunization. These are rare, short-term occurrences. The risk is low, and those affected generally recover quickly. Some people have required treatment, while others have not. Most cases are mild. It is COVID-19 that could cause severe and long-term effects, making vaccination critically important. The science and data – now inclusive of younger children continue to speak loud and clear: These free, safe vaccines will help kids fend off the worst outcomes of this highly contagious virus".

Will vaccinating children cause infertility when they’re adults? 

"There is no evidence that any prior vaccines or these vaccines have any impact on fertility or hormones from males and females. We can continue to study it, and this is a myth for prior vaccines as well. Again, we have not had any historical or physical evidence. I have two teen daughters. I felt very comfortable, making sure they got vaccinated and now boosted, so no impact on fertility and hormones," Dr. Pan said. 


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