Last March, I was looking forward to joining the Blue Shield of California team as chief health officer. I never could have imagined my first week in April would be remote from Utah and that nine months later, I would become the poster child for remote leading, having still not met the vast majority of my team in person.
My wife and I finally made it to our new home in California, but it has turned out to be a much different adventure than originally planned. I’ve gotten to know my Oakland neighborhood very well on regular runs and through evening chats with new neighbors, outdoors and at a distance, of course. We’ve managed to take a few short, socially distanced trips to explore local redwood forests and beaches. But there’s so much more to experience in the Golden State, and that’s one of the reasons that I am so happy that several vaccines are now coming our way.
I’ve received questions about the vaccine from friends, family and colleagues – Will you get the vaccine? Is it safe? Is it effective? When will I be able to get the vaccine? Maybe you have these questions too. Here’s what I tell them.
Yes, I will get the vaccine when it’s my turn. I’m glad and relieved that my colleagues working on the front lines are among the first to receive the vaccine. They are resilient but exhausted, and the vaccine brings them a much needed shot of energy and optimism for the future. My parents, by virtue of their age, are also in line before me. They need it more, and I can continue to safely work from home and run my neighborhood a few more times.
The fact that multiple vaccines that are safe and highly effective were developed and approved in less than a year is stunning. It’s a testament to the power of science coupled with innovation, and what is possible when we come together to meet a critical public health need. No shortcuts were taken when testing these vaccines for safety and efficacy. New vaccine technology, along with focused effort and resources, shortened a process that typically takes up to a decade to less than a year.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective (around 95 percent) against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This surpasses expectations and the levels typically seen with other vaccines. Both trials were rigorous and enrolled large numbers of individuals from high-risk groups, including the elderly and minorities at high risk for complications from COVID-19. The vaccine efficacy appears similar in those groups. Side effects - such as redness or pain at the injection site -- are mostly mild and short lived and similar to other vaccines.
The participants in the vaccine trials will be followed closely over the next two years. As a result, we’ll learn more about the duration of immunity and whether it reduces asymptomatic transmission of the virus. The vaccines are not yet tested for children, people with severely compromised immune systems or pregnant women—that will come. In the meantime, if everyone else gets vaccinated, the risk to those who are not yet will decrease.
We still have a huge lift in front of us to ensure the vaccine is quickly and equitably distributed and widely accepted. I’m not certain when I’ll be able to get the vaccine, or when the majority of our members will be able to get it either. It seems that it will be at least a few months before healthy adults will have broad access to it, but Blue Shield of California is working with the state and our provider and pharmacy partners to ensure that we are ready to help our members access the vaccine however we can. I encourage members to visit our COVID-19 member website regularly for up-to-date information.
I’m missing my family who are sprawled out across the globe. I have played golf since middle school, and every year my dad and I get on the course in North Carolina, rain or shine, for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That didn’t happen this year, but I am looking forward to picking up the tradition again next year. I’m also looking forward to visiting my siblings in New York City and Singapore. I may even run a half marathon next year.
But for now, I’ll keep running in my neighborhood until it’s my turn in line.