Despite California’s progress against COVID-19, we’re not out of the woods yet – too many folks in our communities remain unvaccinated, putting themselves and others who can’t get the vaccine at risk. Now, we’re facing the more contagious Delta variant. It’s more important than ever to get vaccinated – it’s how we end this pandemic.
These safe and highly effective vaccines provide excellent protection from severe illness, hospitalization and death, including from the Delta and other known variants. With 80 percent of eligible Californians having received at least one dose, our work continues to close the gap of those who remain unvaccinated.
We are seeing hundreds of unvaccinated people being admitted to ICUs, and unfortunately, some may never leave those hospitals. The vast majority of COVID-19 cases in California have occurred in unvaccinated people. As case rates, hospitalization rates and death rates increase, our efforts to reach the most impacted communities will continue.
This situation is very real. California is at a critical point with the Delta variant. It is extremely contagious – over 60 percent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain – and has become the dominant strain circulating in the state. The risk for exposure and infection from COVID-19 and its variants will remain until more people get vaccinated. We need to follow the science and finish the job to end this pandemic now.
Unfortunately, many of our most vulnerable communities where we are seeing low vaccination rates are targets of disinformation campaigns, which continue to put lives at risk, including our youngest children who are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Working with ethnic media, faith-based and community-based organizations, and many unique partners who are trusted messengers has been crucial to dispelling some of the most prevalent myths out there. It’s time to fully embrace the facts that prove vaccines work, are safe, and are free – regardless of immigration status.
There is some good news. As we work with communities to share information on vaccine safety and efficacy, an increasing number of Californians are choosing to get vaccinated. We’re continuing to work closely with employers to make the free vaccines more accessible to their employees, opening pop-up clinics at workplaces and providing information on COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave, which may be used for a vaccine appointment or if someone cannot work or telework due to vaccine-related side effects. We cannot and will not let up. Our vaccine outreach will continue as our priority remains to make our communities safer, grow our economy and ensure our kids can thrive.
Our work to increase vaccination rates in communities hit hardest by COVID-19 is matched by our commitment to helping Californians make ends meet and provide for their families. By going to covid19.ca.gov or calling the COVID-19 hotline, 833-422-4255, you can find information in-language about programs like rent relief and eviction protection. In addition, the Golden State Stimulus can put money in the pockets of families making $75,000 or less. These resources are in place for all Californians who need them, regardless of immigration status, and together vaccines can help keep our communities safe and healthy.
Every Californian needs to know how critical it is that they get vaccinated – for their health, the health of their family, and the health of California as a whole. We are counting on those not yet vaccinated to make the right decision. And soon. Together, we can end this pandemic.
Gavin Newsom is the Governor of California, formerly Lieutenant Governor of California, and Mayor of San Francisco. Governor Newsom is married to Jennifer Siebel Newsom. They have four children: Montana, Hunter, Brooklynn, and Dutch. Newsom has been a pioneer on same-sex marriage, gun safety, marijuana, the death penalty, universal health care, access to preschool, technology, criminal justice reform, and the minimum wage, which has led to sweeping changes when his policies were ultimately accepted, embraced, and replicated across the state and nation.
This article was first published on the Ethnic Media Services website.
With Irreverence Towards All – A monthly column on the musings and rants from a Bay Area Indian American about all that ails, affects, or matters to desis here and across these fine United States. Many will disagree, and sometimes aggressively.
There is nothing cool, romantic, or brave about being a public health hazard. Many desis in the Bay area are unfortunately being just that. Yes, this is a rant. And it is intended to highlight this problem – if you see it happening in your circles, call it out.
A couple of weeks ago, more than 10% of those who received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have missed their second dose (per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This statistic is a huge concern. According to experts, studies have shown that the vaccines are much more effective against the Delta variant after the two-dose regimen is completed. Let’s not forget that the Delta variant is believed to be more transmissible and likely to cause more severe disease than other strains.
Folks, these are the facts. So wherein lies the problem?
The problem lies with the folks who should be leading and guiding people to do the right thing for public health; they are doing the exact opposite. It is disheartening when these are people from your own community that is often thought of as one that functions at a higher degree of awareness and is well-educated. Yes, I’m talking about desis in the Bay area who are engaging in downright irresponsible behavior.
Exhibit A – A tech company CEO and their spouse, who many look up to because of their otherwise spiritual leanings, are refusing to get vaccinated. They are, in fact, trying to convince others that COVID has been blown out of proportion and that we should avoid getting vaccinated. What they are doing is very dangerous. They seem to forget that it is not about the individual alone, and not everyone can or will be able to do what these two individuals do for their personal immunity. I believe their behavior is outrageously selfish. What makes it worse is that they have a child in their twenties – a demographic that is already slowing down vaccination rates. With parents like these, I don’t see this young individual racing to get vaccinated. I think this couple is among the worst offenders because they are signaling to people who look up to them that it’s okay to be irresponsible. It is reprehensible how they do this maintaining a holier-than-thou attitude. And, I’ve seen other desis pretend this is not happening. Will we only take notice when they become sick? It is their choice to not get vaccinated – which must be respected. But they should not expect to be treated on par with others who have been responsible for protecting the health of the community. It should be perfectly fine to shun their company till they demonstrate more responsible behavior.
Exhibit B – A rising tech star (in Texas actually, but can we assume this is not happening in the Bay area too?) agreed to abandon their vaccination schedule because their spouse was convinced by friends that vaccines were not safe! And the source of the information? WhatsApp. These forwards seem to have taken control of brains around the world because we are too lazy to look up credible sources of information. Whatever happened to personal due diligence and a mind that can discern what’s BS and what is solid science-based reasoning?
Exhibit C – A healthcare worker. Yes, a healthcare worker while administering a shot to a close friend of mine expresses doubts about the efficacy and illness preventing capabilities of the vaccine. Are you kidding me? If we have individuals like this in healthcare, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
All these offenders are desi and all of them are fairly well-educated and wouldn’t otherwise be suspected of being science naysayers.
In the Hindu faith, the concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” implies the whole world is a family. Which in turn means that co-existence ought to be a core belief. What does it say about you, as a Hindu, if you are tearing down a core principle – one of co-existence? In the Sikh faith there happens to be a beautiful principle – “Sarbat da Bhala” which literally means the welfare of all. In the context of this discussion, I ask, aren’t we adversely impacting the welfare of the community by setting a bad example when we shun vaccination and advocate against it? This discussion is not meant to be about faith. I bring this up to expose the hypocrisy of those who are hurting our common interest and endangering everyone around. I mention these two faiths specifically because the offenders in my 3 examples are self-professed and self-proclaimed diehard believers of these faiths; and mind you, they don’t hesitate to pontificate ad nauseam, espousing the virtues of being a good Hindu or Sikh.
The science is clear – the pandemic will not end until we get north of 70% immunity for the population. As a nation, we have missed the July 4 goal set by President Biden with respect to vaccination numbers. Can we pledge to do our part in trying to make up lost ground in the weeks ahead? Let’s push ourselves, our families, our friends, and all those sitting on the fence about getting vaccinated. The diehard anti-vaxxers I write off as parasites – they’ll benefit from our effort and dedication to public health – so, let’s not waste time trying to convince them.
One more thing. I tip my hat (figuratively speaking, of course – I’m not exactly a wearer of hats) to Khushwant Singh, a journalist of international repute who used to run a syndicated column in the Illustrated Weekly of India called, “With Malice towards One and All (many older folks in the desi community might remember). While I cannot hope to match his talent, savvy, and way with words, I confess I am inspired by his irreverent wit. I hope to keep that irreverence alive.
Darpan is a Bay Area artiste with a background in technology and finance. He shares his unfiltered views on a broad range of topics. He agrees to be restrained only by editorial diktat.
One of the hottest ‘V’ words that has the entire world talking about them these days is vaccines. Either someone has recently taken them, is taking them, or is about to take them! Lately, young children have been observing adults around them—their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—taking the all-important Covid-19 jab. Moreover, now in several countries, with vaccine trials for children underway, the book is a useful manual to help them understand what’s going on.
V For Vaccine: A One-Shot Introduction to Vaccines! (HarperCollins, 2021) is a ready reckoner to tell children everything they need to know about vaccines. Through easy-to-understand language and colorful, quirky illustrations by Isha Nagar, the book explains the preventive nature of vaccines—how they teach one’s body to recognize and fight certain germs such as chicken pox or measles—and what makes them different from other medicines.
Originally from Lucknow, Nagar was born into a family of artists and writers. In 2010, she graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi with a Graphic Design specialization. While working in the publishing industry, she discovered her love for illustrations and ventured into creating quirky, handmade illustrations. Based on the daily activities of Indians, it paved way for her own brand Tathya, which produced lifestyle products and designs. She has also illustrated for the Mini series by Nandini Nayar.
Much of the inputs for the book’s content come from Dr. Gagandeep Kang, a Professor of Microbiology at the Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences at the Christian Medical College, Vellore. Having worked on the development and use of vaccines for rotaviruses, cholera, and typhoid, she is the first woman working in India to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
“Vaccines are a clever way of teaching your body how to fight off germs that haven’t tried to attack you yet, so that the first time these germs try to make you feel sick, your immune system is already prepared!” In this way, the prose highlights the importance of vaccines by reminding us how so many diseases in the past have been eradicated through herd immunity.
In simplified form, the book also introduces kids to concepts such as antigens as well as antibodies—“a protein shaped like a Y”—one of the most important elements of the immune system. The book also details the process of testing a vaccine in labs on humans and animals once it is created, and describes what the actual process of taking a vaccine entails: whether it hurts, how the body reacts to it and builds immunity, booster doses, and annual flu shots.
The book also lists other ways to stay healthy, including eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, getting exercise and staying active, following basic hygiene like washing hands before meals, sneezing or coughing into a tissue, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing (particularly for Covid-19). Along the way, the book also offers some fun facts and trivia about the history of vaccines, informing that an English scientist, Edward Jenner, invented the first vaccine around 1796, using material from cowpox to give people immunity against smallpox.
In all, this short and timely book is perfect to educate young ones about vaccines, and even includes a pull-out vaccine card at the end!
Neha Kirpalis a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.
As the world shot down largely in 2020, tourism was badly hit with losses estimated at a whoppingUS$ 2 trillion-plus in global GDP. However, the new year and the slew of vaccines launched across the board have sent a positive signal to the tourism industry. Even as international borders open albeit slowly, the tourism industry is hopping on to the vaccine bandwagon to boost its sagging image.
Understanding Vaccine Tourism
So, what is vaccine tourism all about?
Well simply speaking it is traveling to get a COVID-19 vaccine jab in another country. While the concept of medical tourism (getting treatment in another country) is quite commonplace, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in vaccine shortages in many countries which means people are looking at going to another country for their shot. It would be wise to understandwhich states can give non-residents a COVID-19 vaccine. Some countries like the Maldives, easily the most popular tourist destination in the pandemic, has announced that they will soon offer visitors vaccinations on arrival. This is being planned as part of a three-pronged 3V strategy that encourages ‘visit, vaccinate and vacation’ for its tourists. It does help that90% of the tourism industry and 65% of the eligible population have already received their shots. The tourism minister of Maldives, Abdulla Mausoom, has been quoted saying the country will offer vaccines to tourists once the country is fully vaccinated.
With much talk about vaccine passports doing the rounds, several countries are ready to open for tourism. However, the shadow of the virus is still around and one way to mitigate this is to offer packages that allow people to come in for an extended stay that includes vaccination and quarantine.
Recently a Dubai-based travel agency Arabian Nights Tours launched a 23-night package from Delhi to Moscow which quickly disappeared from the site. While the agencyclaimed that it was sold out, the real issue is that Russia will allow only those foreign citizens with registration in Moscow, residence permits, and Russian health insurance to be vaccinated. Hence it is important to read and understand the fine print before heading for jaunt and jab trips.
However, while citizens are the priority, there has also been an announcement on Sputnik V’s official Twitter account that indicated that the Sputnik V vaccination was going to be available for travelers in Russia after July. Arecent report confirmed that the first group of four people drove 26 hours in a camper van to reach San Marino from Latvia to become the first visitors to take advantage of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine holiday package.
While vaccine tourism is something that people with deep pockets can aspire for, the question that also arises is whether it is ethical. Considering that vaccination drives have begun recently, several countries are now revising vaccine tourism packages as they have been under fire for offering vaccines to foreigners over residents.
A lot of the fallout is also happening, as these tours come with fancy price tags that the affluent can easily afford to leave out a large part of the vulnerable population. In fact,Glenn Cohen, a medical ethicist at Harvard Law School describes this issue very succinctly.
The other aspect is that people of color are more likely to be affected by the coronavirus as per aCOVID Racial Tracker by NPR. This was also corroborated by areport that threw light on the Covid-19 mortality data by race and ethnicity across the United States.
While currently there are no laws that make it illegal to travel for vaccines, it is imperative to check and recheck before you embark on a journey to get the jab. And it is most vital for you to understand the reason why you have decided to travel for a vaccine. Research about the vaccine, your eligibility and accordingly make a decision that will be the right one.
Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) today released the latest “On the Record” ethnic media column, in which California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan encourages California families to vaccinate their 12 to 15-year-olds against COVID-19 – an age group comprising about 2.1 million Californians. Protecting adolescents with vaccinations will help move the state closer to ending the pandemic and ease its toll on their mental health and social-emotional wellbeing.
“The past year has been hard on all of us, but especially difficult for our teens who have had to put their lives on hold. Now that eligibility has expanded, we can confidently give our kids a shot at being kids again with the comfort of knowing they are protected from COVID-19,” wrote Dr. Pan in her column. “When more Californians become vaccinated, we can feel safer as restrictions are lifted and life begins to return to a sense of normalcy. When 12 to 15-year-olds are vaccinated, families can be safer as they venture out more, go on vacations and get back to doing the things they love.”
California expanded eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds last month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) vaccine safety review panel and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup recommended that the vaccine is safe and effective in protecting this age group against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. In the weeks since the eligibility expansion, approximately 27.5 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds have received at least one dose.
In the column, Dr. Pan addresses potential questions and concerns teens and their parents or guardians may have about the vaccine. Dr. Pan explains that clinical trials have proven the vaccine to be safe and effective for youth in this age group and that the technology used to make the vaccine has been developed over the last 20 years. Vaccinated individuals may experience mild side effects such as a sore arm, fever, or fatigue.
A parent of two eligible adolescents, Dr. Pan discusses the stress and isolation youth have experienced due to the pandemic, and how getting vaccinated is a critical step to getting back to our normal lives, including more opportunities to safely spend time with friends and family.
Dr. Pan also highlights the state’s new $116.5 million Vax for the Win incentive program, in which all Californians who have had at least one COVID-19 dose – including youth – are eligible to receive $50 prepaid or grocery cards and are entered into randomized cash prize drawings. A total of 30 winners will receive $50,000, and on June 15, 10 will win $1.5 million as the state fully reopens. $750,000 has already been awarded in the first round of cash prize drawings last week, and the next 15 winners will be selected this Friday.
Dr. Pan underscores the state’s work to ensure equitable access to the vaccine, including partnerships with local health departments, community-based organizations, and school districts to reach underserved youth in foster care or those experiencing homelessness, as well as efforts to improve access in rural communities through mobile clinics, free transportation and more. Vaccines are free, including for those who don’t have health insurance and regardless of immigration status.
To promote easy access, the Administration established a portal where schools and other community sites can request support to set up mobile and pop-up clinics. Schools – especially larger districts – can also become providers by following the steps outlined here and in a school-specific recorded webinar. For resources to support outreach, schools and other community organizations can access the messaging toolkit.
Parents, legal guardians or emancipated young people can check vaccine availability and book an appointment at MyTurn.ca.gov or by calling California’s COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255. They can also contact their family doctor, local community health clinic or public health office for more information.
More information on the Vax for the Win program can be found here. If you encounter a possible vaccine incentive scam, please email [email protected] or call the Vax for the Win incentives hotline at 1-833-993-3873.
AACI announced that it has been awarded a $20,000 grant from Bank of America to help bolster its critical healthcare and medical services related to a lagging COVID-19 vaccination rate among Santa Clara County’s hardest hit, low-income, immigrant communities. This funding comes on the heels of a Bank of America $10,000 sponsorship to assist with its Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders program development.
COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the underserved individuals AACI serves, many of whom face significant health disparities and complex barriers to care. According to the California Dept of Public Health, vaccination supplies exceed demand in some of Santa Clara County’s poorer neighborhoods, but there are some positive signs. For instance, San Jose’s 95116 zip code where just 43 percent of its 43,000 residents were vaccinated in mid-April, saw that percentage jump to 57 percent three weeks later.
To keep the momentum going in its vicinities, AACI actively distributed flyers and other marketing materials in several languages, including Vietnamese, Chinese, Tagalog, Farsi, and Spanish as part of its push to eliminate obstacles to seeking aid and encourage vaccination for those who want it. Now, funds from the Bank of America grant will allow for coordination and outreach around additional vaccine community events, as well as provide access to safe transportation for AACI clients.
AACI also will allocate a portion of the grant toward its domestic violence shelter support and meal delivery for seniors, along with general operating financial assistance. Bank of America’s other recent contribution to AACI funded panel discussions geared at broadening the conversation around anti-Asian hate speech and hate crimes.
“Bank of America’s grant support gives AACI an extraordinary opportunity to maintain essential services to our marginalized and vulnerable ethnic community members,” said Sarita Kohli, AACI president, and CEO. “Our expanding partnership with Bank of America now allows us to concentrate on our most urgent needs while our day-to-day operations carry on without pause.”
“AACI’s multi-cultural, multi-lingual approach to its work in Silicon Valley addresses the daily challenges diverse populations face. This Bank of America grant supports AACI’s efforts to educate impacted populations about COVID-19 vaccinations and other critical resources,” said Raquel González, Bank of America Silicon Valley president. “AACI’s long-time presence in Silicon Valley is a testament the many individuals and families who rely on their important services and the impact they continue to make.”
In addition to its COVID-19 efforts and primary care services, AACI offers seniors to youth alike behavioral health counseling; HIV outreach, testing, and education; shelter and services for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking; specialized services for refugees and survivors of torture; advocacy; and youth and senior wellness services.
Founded in 1973, AACI serves individuals and families with cultural humility, sensitivity, and respect, advocating for and serving the marginalized and ethnic communities in Santa Clara County. AACI’s mission is to strengthen the resilience and hope of our diverse community members by improving their health and well-being. Our many provide care that goes beyond just health, but also provides people a sense of hope and new possibilities. Current programs include behavioral and primary health services, substance abuse prevention and treatment, a center for survivors of torture, shelter, and services for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, senior wellness, youth programs, and community advocacy.
“Everyone in my family is sick, madam, our father has been having high fevers for several days. My wife sickened 5 days ago. She was pregnant and had to have an emergency c-section delivery…baby is in the NICU…now my brother has developed a cough. They were unable to be vaccinated ma’am, they went to the center but by the time they got there, all vaccines were gone…”
On the monitor, the man gulped visibly, obviously distraught. He was the first of several patients whom I would triage remotely – a volunteer effort led by non-resident Indian physicians to help with the COVID-19 surge currently ravaging India. I had already seen many patients with similar stories: recently symptomatic, terrified of having to seek care in overburdened hospitals, and frustrated with the inability to access the life-saving vaccines being administered in other countries.
As the newspaper headlines report on a daily basis, the toll of COVID-19 IS skyrocketing in India. Patients must “hospital shop” to find beds and oxygen. The situation is dire and could have been mitigated if the population had better access to vaccines. It is imperative to promote resource equity: pandemics cannot be managed by political agendas and microbes disregard both party lines and geographic boundaries. This is why I applaud the Biden administration’s decision to support a waiver on intellectual property (IP) rights for COVID-19 vaccines. It is a critical first step towards ensuring sustainable access to vaccines, particularly in hard-hit countries like India and Brazil.
Over 80% of the more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed globally have gone to high-income countries, while low-income countries have received a paltry 0.3% of the supply. Pharmaceutical companies, profiting from filling orders of wealthy countries first, have not made countries like Brazil and India a priority until now when their monopoly control on the vaccine was threatened by the possibility of an IP waiver. Yet, these are the countries where a resurgence could cause incredible upheaval and are the most vulnerable to the sequelae of this pandemic.
Moreover, there is a growing risk of prolonging the pandemic as the virus rages on unchecked. Science confirms that fact: the longer the virus is allowed to replicate in a population, the greater the possibility of mutation, which ultimately jeopardizes the health of every nation, resource-rich, or poor. History has also shown that since the original SARS epidemic in 2003, there have been dramatic leaps in the genetic variation of these viruses, which have increased transmissibility and virulence. The likelihood is that this pattern will continue into the next decade, creating more rapidly mutating and perhaps more lethal viruses, which is a threat to all humanity. Expanding vaccine equity now will help to combat our current crisis and may even quell the incidence of new mutations in the future.
The U.S. announcement is a humanitarian, practical response to the global phenomenon of a rapidly mutating pandemic. It is a great first step. The hard work is yet to be done. The World Trade Organization must meet to hash out the specifics of the policy. Other nations will need to commit to the waiver in order to for the policy to be actionable. Simultaneously, there must be commitments to compel technology transfer and resource allocation to the countries that are suffering the most.
My hope is that eventually these life-saving health care innovations will not be treated as the spoils of free-market competition and will be available to patients like my own without negotiation, wherever they are most needed.
Maya Nambisan is a physician in San Joaquin County. She is of Indian ancestry and still has many family members there. She has an M.D. from the University of Illinois and an MPH from Yale School of Epidemiology & Public Health. She is currently volunteering her time with eglobaldoctors.com, an effort by nonresident physicians of Indian origin to help with the covid surge in India.
The year 2021 started with high hopes that COVID-19 will vanish as it came. Vaccines were found with competing forces by various multi-national companies. A few failed to take off, a few of them showed some promising hope and some are still on the drawing board stage of development. Ultimately, we are now gripped with new variants of the Virus trying to show its ugly head, shutting the people indoors. Our grandchildren used to sing, “Rain, rain go away….Come again another day.” With COVID, they have slightly modified it with their creative ingenuity and sing, “Pandemic go away…Never come another day.”
Here, I share two life stories of Desi Americans coming to terms with the reality of their lives. The names of the people associated with my story have been changed.
My family friend has fixed the wedding of his daughter, Seetha, a professional doctor in Boston. Earlier, the family wanted to conduct the wedding during 2020 and had made all the arrangements including fixing a marriage hall, catering, etc. and paid an advance to each of the suppliers of these services. But, alas, March 2020 and COVID-19 came as a blow to the wedding. They had to cancel all the arrangements planned. They waited with the hope that things would ease before long. Till the end of December 2020, there was no respite from the severity of the pandemic.
January 2021 brought some hope and travel restrictions eased between India and various countries including the US and European countries. So, my friend has now rescheduled the wedding date to February 28, 2021. But, the bride and groom were stuck in the US, with their flight to reach India only on 21st or 22nd February. A couple of days before boarding their flight to India, they had to get themselves tested for COVID and get a negative report. Again, on arrival, they had to clear the COVID test and they were quarantined for a period of two weeks. The wedding was a virtual one with just a few family members from both sides attending. Zoom link was provided to the friends and family members who viewed the event from the comfort of their homes. Unfortunately, the groom’s brother, who was stuck in Singapore, could not attend it.
Of course, adversity like this has come as a blessing in disguise for most of us. It became an excuse for not being able to attend such events. No gifts were also received from the friends and relatives who could not attend it. For the first time, what would have been two and half days, took just a few hours. Soon after the kanyadhan and the tying of the mangal sutra, the wedding ended and in less than an hour, the wedding hall was vacated. This is the long and short of a pandemic wedding that actually happened.
Another story is more disturbing…
My relative, Suppuni, aged 80 years old, was living in a single-bedroom flat in Mandaveli, Chennai. Suppuni’s daughter was married to a gentleman in the US and moved there. Luckily, his son Bebu had relocated to Chennai to take care of his parents. A few years back, Suppuni’s wife passed away and since then, Suppuni was staying in his single bedroom flat while his son stayed in another apartment with his family in the neighborhood. Suppuni used to spend his time between his own home and his son Bebu’s.
Last month, after staying with his son, Suppuni returned to his flat in Mandaveli. After he returned, he had a heart attack and collapsed while having his dinner. He called his son to come, who rushed, but it was too late and Suppuni had passed before any first aid could be given to him. Frantic efforts were made by Bebu to reach his sister in the US but they soon realized that her chances of coming before the cremation would be impossible. So, without waiting for her return to India, the last rites were performed by the son.
Surely, these two stories are not unique. Yet, they are agonizing and painful for the families, whether it is the time for celebration or mourning. COVID misery does not seem to end soon. Oh God, please show mercy on this Mother Earth and listen to the prayers of our little grandchildren and make the COVID go away forever.
Dr. S Santhanam is a writer, a blogger, and a retired General Manager of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Born (1948) in Kumbakonam, the temple town of South India, he studied in the popular Town High School (Where Great Mathematician Shri Ramanujam also was born and did his schooling) and graduated in Mathematics from the Government College.
After one of the most challenging years of our lives, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—the COVID-19 vaccines are here, and my administration is working to ensure that no community is left behind.
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They are our best hope to end the pandemic. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is free, even if you’re undocumented or don’t have health insurance.
After the federal government authorized the use of the vaccines back in December, our own Western States Scientific Safety Review Group confirmed that the vaccines are safe. The Panel includes nationally acclaimed scientists, many from California, with expertise in public health.
Although supplies of the vaccine are limited right now, we’re working in close partnership with the federal government to get more vaccines into the state. And we’re working hard to build a system for swiftly and safely vaccinating Californians with equity at the forefront.
While the supply of vaccines is constrained, we’re prioritizing vaccines for the Californians most at risk–including healthcare workers, individuals 65 and older, and workers in education and childcare, emergency services and food and agriculture. That means grocery store workers, restaurant workers, farmworkers, those who work in food processing facilities and many others may now be prioritized. And we’re working to ensure that the communities most impacted by COVID-19–so often the communities of color and essential workers who have been sustaining us through this crisis–can access the vaccine.
We’re investing in community-based organizations and partnering with trusted messengers who have been providing critical services and information to California’s diverse communities during the pandemic so that they can help educate, motivate and activate people to get vaccinated when it’s their turn. We’re also building messaging through a public education campaign, creating in-language content with cultural humility and meeting Californians where they are—literally, through the mobile vaccination sites that have deployed throughout the state to community centers, places of worship and health clinics.
Vaccination sites are being set up throughout the state, and we’re working closely with community partners to make sure that vaccines are distributed to those who have been hit the hardest by this virus.
You may see people in uniform or police protecting vaccine sites. They are here to help Californians get vaccinated and are not immigration officials.
The federal government, under President Biden, has confirmed that they will not conduct immigration enforcement operations at or near vaccine sites or clinics. You should not be asked about your immigration status when you get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Also, your medical information is private and cannot be shared with immigration officials. And, vaccinations do not count under the public charge rule.
All Californians can sign up on myturn.ca.gov to be notified when they are eligible for a vaccine. Eligible individuals in several counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, and San Francisco, can also use My Turn to schedule an appointment, with more counties expected to begin using My Turn for scheduling in the coming weeks. My Turn is also accessible via a toll-free hotline at 1-833-422-4255. Operators speak English and Spanish, and third-party interpretation is also available in 250+ languages. You can also ask your physician or your pharmacy about scheduling an appointment.
After you’ve been vaccinated, it’s still important to wear a mask, wash your hands often and continue to stay six feet apart to protect others in your community who have not yet been vaccinated.
I encourage every Californian to get vaccinated as soon as it’s your turn. Together, we can end the pandemic.
Gavin Newsom is the Governor of California, formerly Lieutenant Governor of California, and Mayor of San Francisco. Governor Newsom is married to Jennifer Siebel Newsom. They have four children: Montana, Hunter, Brooklynn, and Dutch. Newsom has been a pioneer on same-sex marriage, gun safety, marijuana, the death penalty, universal health care, access to preschool, technology, criminal justice reform, and the minimum wage, which has led to sweeping changes when his policies were ultimately accepted, embraced, and replicated across the state and nation.
Legends of Quintessence – a Science Fiction column with a South Asian twist.
In a tiny house by the outskirts of Fresno, the morning was very quiet. Twenty years ago such a lull would be constantly interrupted by the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the windmills. Today, the windmill farm had been replaced by an energy farm that used a combination of solar fields and wind tunnels to maximize energy output. Quiet, efficient, and as ugly as could be. This stretch of California had stayed virtually untouched by the development frenzy that had gripped the state for as long as one could remember.
The silence was broken by the phone
She jumped at the sound.
Her hands shook as she picked up the phone, not saying anything.
“Yes, who are you?”
“I am Vink Bhatia from the Center for Disease Prevention: CDP. We are calling from the Richmond center. We would like to call you in for a meeting to advise us.”
She panicked, trying to breathe normally, “Do I have to come? My case is closed and I have not been involved with the CDP for 26 years now. I have no new information or anything for that matter.”
“No ma’am,” said Vink “We need your help. We have no other hope for what is staring us in the face. Please come and see us this afternoon and I will explain everything.”
Once she put the phone down, she sobbed fiercely as all the memories she had suppressed came flooding back.
Twenty-eight years ago, she had graduated from Strafford University, ready to save the world through research on vaccines. She joined the Center for Disease Prevention (CDP) Research Center to work on the development of vaccines for targeted assignments. It was the perfect time to be in a perfect world. The political upheaval of ten years ago was far behind and they finally had a president that came from California.
A woman of mixed ancestral background was voted into Presidency and led the country to financial success and stability through her political tact and focus on science, international relationships, and trade. It was just as well since the world was moving faster towards space exploration and travel. All eyes were shifting from regional and national boundaries to planetary and galactic boundaries.
She joined the team headed by Professor Braun. Her work was a combination of genetic engineering and cloning to develop vaccines. What had become clear to space agencies and companies contracting space missions was that, without vaccines that could trigger the immune system to mirror and overpower microbes in space, humans would be defenseless. In the last two years, there had been seven outbreaks of diseases brought back to Earth by space travelers. They had been hard to contain and three of them had had very sad conclusions with entire communities being quarantined till they were wiped out. Never had the CDP felt the heat like it did then.
The whole world unanimously agreed on the need for accelerated research to develop potent vaccines to protect humanity. Money poured into top research institutes and whole departments sprung like wild mushrooms in monsoon. There was enough funding to last for decades of research and development.
She worked on some very bizarre and strange microbes that took a lot of effort to clone, control, and conduct tests on. More than once she and her team had to quarantine themselves, as they worked to contain the aggressive multiplication of microbes.
The worst were the ones that came from the outer asteroid belt beyond the solar system. That part of the belt was where space mining companies really wanted to go for expensive and rare elements. The outer belt was rich in both elements and pathogens due to the increased gravitational forces in that part of the galaxy.
In her line of work, she would often assist astronauts, lifting planetary dust off of their gear before they went into the sterilization chambers. She knew the frequent travelers by name and they joked and shared stories each time they met her.
This winter when Salas came back he was hurt. The official story was that his communication link with base had snapped due to a magnetic storm and a tiny piece of asteroid debris had hit him with moderate speed. When they were alone she looked at him, “Hey man, this time you lost it”, she said as she winked with a smile.
Salas looked up and she recognized the fear in his face.
“Can you shut off the recording for a couple of minutes?” he said.
”What’s up?” she was puzzled and not taking her eyes off him as she used suction to lift off the dirt from his clothes into five separate partitions within the sampler.
“I need to tell someone. They told me on the base not to say a word. But someone has to know …they may be coming to earth?” He paused and then looked up at her, pleading with tears in his eyes, ”Please, can you just give me five minutes?”
She paused and then turned the room to reclaim mode: they had seven minutes before all processes would kick back on, including monitoring and recording. She knew she would have to sign tons of paperwork and instantly regretted doing it.
Salas gripped her hand and started blurting, “They know that there is some form of life in the outer asteroid belt. They have known for a long time and are hiding it. They have destroyed evidence many times.”
“Hang on there buddy, who’s they, and what kind of life?” Now she was genuinely interested, even if Salas had gone completely cuckoo.
“The mining companies…They think that they understand the aliens and that they can control them. They do not want to abandon the asteroid belts. I met him”, he paused, “I met it while leaving Base 3, which is at the remote end and is not manned. It was flowing fast and at first, I thought it was a gas cloud but then it hit my shoulder here”, he said showing the back of his right shoulder. “It was hard as a rock and I fell off and I reached out with my gun. I must have hurt it since I felt deep vibrations through my organs and then it flowed away very fast.”
“Look at my suit here,” said Salas, pointing to a part on his right side that had a splatter of grey almost rock-solid matter. “I think this came out of it”
She jumped up at his confession. Did he mean that he had alien microbes on his suit?
“Don’t move,” she said urgently and reached for a mini sampler and scooped up the hard substance from his suit. “Salas, who else knows about this?” she asked.
“The controllers on Base 2. I told them about the encounter and they did not seem surprised at all. Instead, they told me to not tell anyone, else they would come after me”.
She told him to take some time off to rest and get his nerves back and promised to not tell anyone.
She did not report the alien matter as she should have. She worked on it on her own. She divided the amount into two equal halves and experimented with one half – attacking it with earth microbes to see how they would impact the defense mechanisms of the alien matter.
She used the second half to develop immuno-adaptive vaccines for humans when attacked by microbes from the alien mass. She worked non-stop, knowing that there was no end to the greed of the mining companies. Very soon Earth would be facing aliens without knowing if they were friend or foe.
She wanted to be ready…for people, for humanity…for a future where Earth could protect itself against the aliens that mining companies were aggravating.
Completely unaware of what was happening in parallel, she worked on her own and was able to create the two medical safeguards with which she could arm the world if the need arose. She was almost done and had to conduct the last tests for replication and vaccine stability.
“Just a couple of days more,” she said to herself as she entered her lab on that fateful day.
They were waiting for her at the lab entrance. They had quarantined her work and she was escorted to a remote intelligence location. During her interrogation, she realized that Salas had cracked and told his team leader that she had taken alien matter from his suit. When she asked what happened to Salas, they gave her blank looks. She knew then what could happen to her. But if she told them everything, there would be no hope for humanity.
No matter what happened to her, she would not tell.
She had stored her work in two places by then. One, in the lab where her tests had failed, and the other where the vaccines had worked. She gave up the location of samples where the vaccines had worked on alien mass. She did not tell them the location of the molecules that had the potential to invade alien mass. She was not going to give up the last line of defense!
They made an example out of her for the other researchers, calling her a traitor for developing vaccines to protect aliens. Her trial and sentencing was one-sided, military, swift, and ruthless. Eleven years in a military prison in Kansas and they ensured that they found every reason to throw her into solitary confinement as often as possible.
She imagined during these spells that she was the trunk of a twisted old tree, with each solitary confinement increasing her rings. Her branches held the weight of future children that wanted the freedom to be born. And close to her roots lay Salas in a resting position. She would often comfort him and let him know that it was ok.
“You have done your part. You can rest. I am the one that failed and my branches feel heavy with this burden.”
On release, she was only allowed to work non-medical, low-income jobs. She chose to be a hairstylist. Given her record, the only place that employed her was a minimum wage salon in Fresno. Routine: wake up, breakfast, get to work, end at 8 pm, back home, eat and sleep. 7 days a week including Christmas and New Year. It kept her sane, it kept her going for 16 years until the phone rang that morning.
She opened the door before the bell rang and walked to the car they had sent for her. The 3 hours drive was heavy with silence and she kept imagining in her mind again and again what awaited her at the CDP. As she stepped into the CDP building, a flood of memories hit her and she shivered involuntarily.
A man standing inside came rapidly to her and dragged her away by her arm to a room in the back of the two-story building.
“I am Vink,” he said as he hastily seated her in a chair.
She nodded, “What do you want?”
“You were experimenting on alien matter and developing vaccines for it?”
She felt her anger rising, “I was not. I have served a long sentence for a crime that I never committed.”
“Oh, you don’t understand?” he said, “ We will need your help now. The mining companies have been exploiting the outer asteroid belt for a very long. We did not know that they were aware that some of these asteroids hosted an alien form of life that can survive in very harsh conditions. A lifeform so evolved that they can move from being fluid to hard as rock. When they die, they become a rock, almost unrecognizable as a living form.”.
He took out some pictures and showed her, “Look, here is one in the process of transforming from a solid rock form to fluid.”
“So what do you want from me?”
Vink looked at her, “They are sick of being driven out of their homes and have entered earth using our own spaceships. Earlier, we thought that we had managed to contain them within the transportation base, but news from across California and Texas has me convinced that they are out there in these states.”
“Did you guys keep my experiments and materials in my lab?” She jumped up, “We will need to find it back and I need you to give me a lab and any alien mass you might have collected from the transportation base.”
“What had you developed besides what we found?” asked Vink.
“Well….you see some of Earth’s microbes can cause a lot of damage to them and are hard to create vaccines against. How many types do we have?” she motioned.
“We have three types: two from combinations of flu and a very old skin plague against which all humans today have immunity and one that impacts their external layer”, Vink replied.
“Let’s work with the two combinations and forget the skin diseases…we need lethal diseases, not tame ones.” She stopped and turned sharply to him, “You don’t understand do you?” Vink stared at her.
“Look, they are able to change their form from fluid to solid by diffusing liquids and gases. But when they have to change from solid to fluid form they need to absorb these gases through their outer layer. If that outer layer malfunctions, they can no longer change back to fluid form and are rendered immobile. That is when we can infect them with our microbes”.
“Stop staring at me and let’s get to work. We have a lot to do…first I will need to replicate these microbes at a mass scale and once we have done that we will need to distribute the vaccines as well,” she said, exasperated.
Vink looked excited and confused at the same time, “We have not been able to develop vaccines yet. We are working on it but need more time. I am afraid we will lose some people but we are looking to quarantine the two states if needed.”
She looked up from the table and spoke slowly as a matter of fact, “Yes, I know that. I have the vaccine ready. I had it ready before they took me to prison. All we need to do is mass produce it.”
Vink sat down and took a few moments to absorb this. “So you did? Where did you?…They sent you to prison…And all the time you were….”
She stood up restlessly, “Vink, take me to a lab. We can’t waste time chatting!”
Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.
South Asians in the house! — my cousin cheers between mouthfuls of samosa and peanut chutney as Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States on screen. It’s a day as celebratory as it is surreal — especially for the ‘South Asians in the house’, who are scattered across the country watching one of the most unprecedented inaugurations in history. I knew I was going to see a female president or vice-president hold that Bible on camera during my lifetime. The world has seen female presidents and Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Angela Merkel; the world is growing up, and growing out of the trappings of a patriarchal society. Although we’re late, I knew I would have the honor of watching America catch up.
But watching a South Asian-American woman help shatter America’s legislative glass ceiling was a wholly different honor altogether.
According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the United States’ registered voter base. It’s a fact that’s difficult to forget, considering how under-studied and under-appreciated South Asian Americans are as a voter demographic. Civic engagement organizations have a history of not visiting South Asian American neighborhoods out of fear of ‘mispronouncing their names’. In the past, South Asian-American politicians at the local level have been questioned for their religious or ethnic identities, rather than their qualifications or political stances. Although the 2020 elections have marked a tremendous increase in political participation among our community, historically South Asian Americans have often been under-represented and overlooked at the polls.
The new administration is a game-changer for our community — and not simply because of Kamala Harris. Here are some members of the wave of South Asian Americans introduced by the Biden-Harris administration.
Formerly a content strategist for the Biden-Harris campaign, Garima Verma was named by First Lady Jill Biden as the Digital Director for the Office of the First Lady at the White House. Born in India, Garima grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. Her journey in marketing and brand strategy shows her passion for both civic engagement and digital storytelling, as Garima has worked for major corporations like Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and nonprofits like the St. Joseph Center alike. Hopefully, Garima will bring her unique talent of telling compelling stories through the digital medium to the First Lady’s team.
“While in the entertainment space at both Paramount Pictures and ABC, my passion has always been working on diverse and boundary-pushing content that allows more people to feel seen and heard, and to authentically engage and empower those communities through marketing campaigns,” Garima says. “My ultimate goal is to combine my love of marketing and storytelling with my passion for social impact and advocacy in a meaningful and impactful way.”
Massachusetts-native Neera Tanden has contributed to America’s political landscape for years, from advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign to drafting the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. For her work in founding the Center of American Progress (CAP), Tanden was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Women In Washington” by the National Journal in 2012. She has used her platforms to advocate for universal, multi-payer healthcare, and cites her childhood experiences living on welfare as a reason behind her passion for healthcare reform and economic empowerment. As Biden’s pick for budget chief, Tanden hopes to bring her years of political experience to the US Office of Management and Budget.
“After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden said in a 2020 tweet. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”
Her nomination, however, did not come without controversy. Tanden has been often criticized by her Republican counterparts for her outspoken nature on Twitter, where she fired back at Lindsey Graham for calling her a ‘nut job’ and referred to Mitch McConnell as ‘Moscow Mitch’. Many Republicans criticize Tanden for her ‘partisan’ approach to politics — an ironic appraisal, considering how nearly every politician has contributed to the radioactive battlefield that is Twitter in recent years.
Formerly a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, Shanthi Kalathil has been named as the White House’s Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council. Kalathil’s years of dedication towards advocating for human rights and worldwide democracy demonstrate her preparedness for this role. She is known for her commitment towards addressing techno-authoritarians, or the role that modern technology plays in reinforcing the rigidity of authoritarianism. In fact, she addresses this phenomenon in her 2003 book, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Within an increasingly digitized society, Kalathil’s careful attention towards the Internet in relation to human rights is certainly a step forward for the White House. She also carefully avoids implicit biases while addressing human rights abuses in other countries, discussing the importance of separating “the Chinese people from the Chinese party-state” in a podcast published by the National Democratic Institute.
“You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party-state and the Chinese people. Whether it’s the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care”, Kalathil said. “I think in all policy discussions, it’s important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn’t conflate broad-based backlash.”
The United States government has a history of intervening in the human rights abuses committed by the other regimes of the world as an effort to maintain peace and justice. Kalathil’s balanced, nuanced approach towards democracy and human rights will certainly enrich her platform.
American diplomat Uzra Zeya has been nominated by the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Like Tanden, Zeya has years of political experience under her belt, as she was the acting assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration. Before that, she worked in Paris’s Embassy of the United States. Her work in diplomacy has taken her all over the world, from New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Similar to Tanden’s experience, Zeya is also a contentious choice for this position. In 2018, Zeya quit her job in the state department, owing her resignation to the racism and gender bias promoted by the Trump administration. Calling the administration a ‘pale male’ club, Zeya advocated for the diversification of her department.
“In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their place,” Zeya wrote in an article for Politico. “In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.”
If chosen as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Zeya hopes to use her prior political experience to address key global issues such as peace in the Middle East, Russia’s increasing aggression in Europe, and climate change.
“In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals,” Zeya said in a 2021 tweet. “I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.
A former health policy advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, Vidur Sharma has been named by Biden as a testing advisor for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. Sharma played a key role in shaping health policy during the Obama administration, where he advocated for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A Harvard graduate, he also has years of experience working in the medical industry, as he has worked for Avalere Health, CareMore Health, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the past. As a testing advisor at the White House, Sharma will promote equity in the healthcare space, as he was a Deputy Research Director for Protect Our Care, an organization dedicated to “increasing coverage, lowering health care costs, and addressing racial inequities in our..system.”
Amid a global pandemic, equity will play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As the coronavirus is reportedly 2.8 times more likely to kill people of color, implicit biases in our healthcare system can have potentially fatal consequences. The Biden-Harris administration, in fact, recently established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to aid “medically and socially vulnerable communities.” Sharma’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity certainly fits the values of the administration and will help ensure that the vaccine and coronavirus treatment plans reach all Americans.
There are so many threads of commonality among the South Asian Americans introduced to the White House — all passionate about government reform, all aware of our nation’s existing inequalities, all incredibly qualified for their positions. As a South Asian American hoping to enter America’s legislative process later in life, our community’s representation at the national level is both empowering and inspiring — a fond reminder that America, after years of underrepresentation for minority groups — is finally catching up.
Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication.
Radha Rangarajan, CSO of a medical devices company, and healthcare journalist Sujata Srinivasan, interviewed Advait Badkar, a Senior Director in Pfizer’s Drug Product Design and Development organization. Badkar is leading the efforts on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine program with respect to the formulation and process development, scale-up, technology transfer, and registration across global markets. The team Badkar heads specializes in novel delivery technologies with emphasis and expertise in nanoparticle-based modalities.
IC: Are there any differences in immunogenicity in subpopulations?
Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 clinical trial data demonstrated a vaccine efficacy rate of 95% in participants without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (first primary objective) and also in participants with and without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (second primary objective), in each case measured from 7 days after the second dose. Efficacy was consistent across age, gender, race, and ethnicity demographics.
IC: Participants enrolled in Pfizer’s clinical trials were known not to have been infected previously with COVID-19, for obvious reasons. But now that the vaccine is publicly available, it is not possible to test every person before vaccinating. In India, 70%-80% of people have the asymptomatic disease and are unaware of their COVID-19 status. Are any studies planned to assess the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in previously exposed populations?
Yes. Immunity after vaccination is a question we continue to explore in our research. The duration of immunity after COVID-19 requires observing a large number of people who have had the disease once until some get it a second time. Because the first known cases of COVID-19 only occurred in December 2019, there hasn’t been enough time to observe a significant number of second illnesses to know the duration of natural protection.
We will better understand transmission when we have data on protection for those who were previously exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or infected with COVID-19, asymptomatic disease and severity of the disease. Our trial will continue to study those areas to determine the full protection and potential of the vaccine.
IC: Even though the science behind mRNA vaccine is not new, some fear that it might alter the genetic makeup, or cause other irreversible side effects. How is Pfizer’s outreach arm dispelling these myths?
There is no evidence to support that notion. To the contrary, the mRNA platform is well suited for a pandemic response on many levels.
First, one aspect of safety – unlike some conventional vaccines, mRNA vaccines are non-infectious, and there is no need for a viral vector to deliver the mRNA vaccine. Second, because no viral vector is used, mRNA vaccines pose no risk of an anti-vector neutralizing antibody response, thereby permitting repeated boosting, which may be important if additional vaccinations are recommended in the future. Third, speed, mRNA technology enables rapid development if the vaccine needs to quickly adapt to potential mutations. mRNA vaccines have an efficient, fast production process, without the need for complex mammalian cell systems.
IC: Is there any plan to simplify the vaccination protocol to one dose?
No. Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 study for the COVID-19 vaccine was designed to evaluate the vaccine’s safety and efficacy following a 2-dose schedule, separated by 21 days. The study concluded that the two doses are required to provide the maximum protection against the disease, a vaccine efficacy of 95 percent.
IC: What are your thoughts on how to choose between the different vaccines?
At Pfizer, we understand that mitigating this global pandemic will require more than one vaccine and more than one company’s efforts. In March of 2020, Pfizer announced a 5-point plan calling on the biopharmaceutical industry to join the company in committing to an unprecedented level of collaboration to combat COVID-19. The industry responded. We are rooting for each other’s success and are confident that science will win.
IC: What is the plan for a global supply? How will these be administered?
Pfizer and BioNTech are firmly committed to equitable and affordable access for its COVID-19 vaccine for people around the world. That commitment includes the allocation of doses for supply to low-income countries at a not-for-profit price. We are actively working with governments all around the world, as well as with global health partners to work towards fair and equitable access to our vaccine. We are also partnering with global health stakeholders to provide expertise and resources that can strengthen healthcare systems where greater support may be needed to deploy COVID-19 vaccines.
Radha Rangarajan, Ph.D., is Chief Scientific Officer at HealthCubed Inc., a medical devices company. Prior to this, she was the founder and CEO of Vitas Pharma, a drug discovery and development company focused on novel drugs to treat multidrug-resistant infections. Radha has also worked in the Drug Discovery division of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories. She received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, her Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health before moving back to India in 2003.
Sujata Srinivasan is an award-winning, independent business and healthcare journalist with the nonprofit Connecticut Health Investigative Team, whose grant-funded, data-driven reporting is carried by media outlets statewide. Previously, she was the Connecticut correspondent for Crain’s Business, business reporter at NPR’s regional station WNPR, U.S. correspondent for the Indian edition of Forbes, editor of Connecticut Business Magazine, and Interim Chief of Bureau at CNBC-TV 18, Chennai, India. You can follow her on Twitter @SujataSrini