What to Know About California’s Vaccine Rollout

What are the challenges to rolling out a vaccine?

The two vaccines announced last week shattered all records for speed of development. “We’d be lucky in normal circumstances if we were able to develop vaccines in three years,” said Brad Pollock, associate dean for public health sciences at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine.

The vaccines work by using the host’s own immune system to form a defense against the virus.

Even with the historic development, there are some challenges ahead. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses given weeks apart, meaning people will have to remember to get their second follow-up dose.

There’s also the matter of storage. Both of those vaccines must be stored at low temperatures, although Moderna said that its vaccine had a longer shelf life under refrigeration and at room temperature than previously reported. State health officials said they are working to improve their cold chain storage capacities.

The state also needs an adequate supply of needles and syringes, alcohol, pads, bandages, masks and personal protective equipment to safely administer the vaccine.

Once the vaccine is widely available, there might be some resistance to taking it, studies have shown. But there is now reason to believe that more people will be willing to take a vaccine than previously thought. A Gallup poll released on Tuesday showed that 58 percent of the adults who were surveyed were willing to be vaccinated, up from 50 percent in September.

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Is there a timeline?

Mr. Newsom said he expected the vaccine would be widely available in the middle of next year. A number of variables will become more clear in the coming months. Dr. Pollock said that people who participated in the Moderna and Pfizer trials will still need to be followed for a few more months in order to monitor potential side effects.

The Moderna trial did not include children but there are plans to include them in the coming months. However, since children seem to be spared from the harshest effects of the virus, it’s unlikely that they will be included in the first few phases.

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Audit pans California’s lead cleanup at Exide battery plant

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California will need to spend $650 million to clean up a heavily contaminated battery recycling plant in Southern California, but has less than half the money in hand and is behind its estimated schedule for removing dangerous lead dust affecting 100,000 nearby residents, the state auditor said Tuesday.

The Exide plant in Vernon recycled 11 million lead-acid batteries each year until it shut down in 2015. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has been working since then to remove lead contamination from the surrounding area.

Auditors said the department will need another $390 million it currently doesn’t have to complete the project and is “significantly behind schedule” and unlikely to meet its goal of cleaning up lead contamination from the 3,200 most contaminated properties by next July.

Department director Meredith Williams responded that her agency “has cleaned up more properties, more quickly than any other residential lead cleanup in the nation.” She argued that it could not anticipate some of the developments that have slowed its progress, like rain delays or properties where soil would have to be removed by hand or with specialized equipment.

She called it “the largest, most logistically complex residential cleanup project the state of California has ever undertaken.”


The department has yet to clean up 31 of the 50 sites that are frequented by children who are most at risk, including two schools, three parks and 26 childcare centers, auditors said.

Williams said it has cleaned up seven schools and 17 daycare centers and believes the contaminated soil is contained by grass or mulch at the remaining sites.

Auditors said the state so far lacks even a plan to clean up the remaining 4,600 properties near the plant. Department officials blamed a lack of funding.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Democrat who represents the area and sought the audit, called the department’s progress “unacceptable” and called on officials to “fix their mistakes and create a realistic plan to clean up every single contaminated property.”

Lead dust, which can cause developmental disabilities, cancer and other long-term illnesses, contaminated the soil around thousands of homes where about 100,000 people live in Boyle Heights, east Los Angeles, Maywood, Huntington Park and Commerce.

The department is likely to drain its initial state funding before it can remove lead from 269 of the 3,200 most contaminated properties, auditors predicted. Auditors said Exide’s bankruptcy “leaves significant questions about the state’s ability to obtain reimbursement for the cleanup.”

They said state officials underestimated the total cost by failing to account for predictable costs including inflation. The department also paid $17 million more than it projected to clean 768 properties because it agreed to pay for cost overruns instead of requiring its largest cleanup contractor to pay any unexpected costs.

Williams said her department has finished more than 2,000 cleanups and recently stepped up its pace to decontaminate at a rate of 24 properties per week.

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Billions of Dollars for Stem Cell Research Institute On California’s November Ballot

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—In an election year dominated by a chaotic presidential race and splashy statewide ballot initiative campaigns, Californians are being asked to weigh in on the value of stem cell research—again.

Proposition 14 would authorize the state to borrow $5.5 billion to keep financing the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), currently the second-largest funder of stem cell research in the world. Factoring in interest payments, the measure could cost the state roughly $7.8 billion over about 30 years, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

In 2004, voters approved Proposition 71, a $3 billion bond, to be repaid with interest over 30 years. The measure got the state agency up and running and was designed to seed research.

During that first campaign, voters were told research funded by the measure could lead to cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and other devastating diseases, and that the state could reap millions in royalties from new treatments.

Yet most of those ambitions remain unfulfilled.

“I think the initial promises were a little optimistic,” said Kevin McCormack, CIRM’s senior director of public communications, about how quickly research would yield cures. “You can’t rush this kind of work.”

So advocates are back after 16 years for more research money, and to increase the size of the state agency.

Stem cells hold great potential for medicine because of their ability to develop into different types of cells in the body, and to repair and renew tissue.

When the first bond measure was adopted in 2004, the George W. Bush administration refused to fund stem cell research at the national level because of opposition to the use of one kind of stem cell: human embryonic stem cells. They derive from fertilized eggs, which has made them controversial among politicians who oppose abortion.

Federal funding resumed in 2009, and thus far this year the National Institutes of Health has spent about $321 million on human embryonic stem cell research.

But advocates for Proposition 14 say the ability to do that research is still tenuous. In September, Republican lawmakers sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to cut off those funds once again.

The funding from California’s original bond measure was used to create the new state institute and fund grants to conduct research at California hospitals and universities for diseases such as blood cancer and kidney failure. The money has paid for 90 clinical trials.

A 2019 report from the University of Southern California concluded the center has contributed about $10.7 billion to the California economy, which includes hiring, construction and attracting more research dollars to the state. CIRM funds more than 56,500 jobs, more than half of which are considered high-paying.

Despite the campaign promises, just two treatments developed with some help from CIRM have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the past 13 years, one for leukemia and one for scarring of the bone marrow.

But it’s a bit of a stretch for the institute to take

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California’s feared surge of virus cases hasn’t happened

That hasn’t happened. Instead, state data shows hospitalizations have fallen by about 15% since that warning while the weekly average number of new cases continues to decline even as other more populous states like Florida, Ohio and Illinois see increases.

California’s good news isn’t enough to change what Newsom calls his “slow” and “stubborn” approach to reopening the world’s fifth-largest economy. He again cautioned people against “being overly exuberant” about those coronavirus numbers, pointing to a “decline in the rate of decline” of hospitalizations.

While California’s 14-day average of hospitalizations is down, the 7-day average is up ever so slightly to 2,241 patients. The number peaked in July at more than 7,100.

“Boy, what more of a reminder do you need than seeing these numbers begin to plateau?” Newsom said Monday during his weekly news conference.

But Brad Pollock, associate dean of public health sciences at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, said this shows models that try to predict how the coronavirus will behave are “not that great.”

“We don’t have a model that accurately predicts what’s going to happen next,” he said.

Hospitalizations are trending younger in Los Angeles County, where people 18 to 29 now account for about 10% of all coronavirus-related hospitalizations compared with 5% in mid-May. Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said it was one of the troubling trends in the nation’s most populous county with about 10 million residents.

Collectively, people 18 to 49 now account for 58% of all new coronavirus cases in the county.

“If you were to add teenagers in the mix — these are oftentimes young people who may be out socializing — individuals between the ages of 12 and 50 account for fully 68%,” she said.

Newsom’s go-slow approach has frustrated the state’s tourism industry, which is trying to recover after seven months of shutdown. As of last week, the state has lifted its most severe restrictions on all but 10 of the state’s 58 counties, with another update scheduled for Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the Newsom administration for the first time said it was OK for up to three households to gather but only if it is outdoors and people remain socially distanced.

But Newsom still has not allowed for large public gatherings or theme parks to reopen, even with modifications. The Walt Disney Co. has criticized the state for delaying reopening rules for theme parks, saying it contributed to the company’s decision to lay off 28,000 workers at its parks in California

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California’s $100M dialysis battle comes with ancillary benefits for labor union


A patient undergoes dialysis at a clinic in Sacramento, Calif.

A patient undergoes dialysis at a clinic in Sacramento, Calif. | Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

OAKLAND — In initiative-happy California, one set of ads stands out — those involving dialysis clinics, an industry that’s historically been a lower-profile player in politics.

The ads are unusual not only because of their unlikely topic but their volume, which is high because industry opponents of a labor ballot measure are spending more than any group opposing the other 11 proposals California voters must decide on.

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The massive spending gap between the $100 million opponents, including DaVita Inc., have raised and the $8.9 million by supporters led by SEIU United Healthcare Workers West means that the dialysis industry has flooded airwaves as it defends itself against organized labor. The same chain of events played out two years ago, resulting in a resounding defeat for the union’s ballot initiative.

California’s ballot wars have escalated in recent years as industries see little problem spending more than $100 million — and nearly twice that amount in the gig industry’s case — to persuade the electorate. Businesses and organizations that don’t get their way in the state Capitol often use the ballot to change state laws or as leverage to pressure lawmakers and other powerful interests. Proposition 23 is the third most expensive ballot initiative in 2020, according to data compiled by POLITICO.

While SEIU-UHW says it is committed to passing Prop 23, political strategists suggest that labor backers may simply be playing the long game by placing an initiative on the ballot every two years challenging the industry. Win or lose, the union is putting pressure on dialysis companies to spend gobs of money each general election.

“The threat of a ballot measure is something UHW has used strategically,” said Brian Brokaw, a Democratic strategist in Sacramento who is not involved in the Prop. 23 campaign. “In order for a threat to actually be credible, sometimes you have to put it on the ballot. But appearing on a ballot and actually running a campaign to support something are two different things.”

Proposition 23 faces long odds not just because of the industry’s $100 million war chest, but also because it involves a regulatory matter on a crowded ballot — a perfect recipe for voter rejection.

Two years ago, Californians voted 60-40 to reject Prop. 8, another SEIU-UHW-backed initiative that would have capped dialysis profits. But to get that win, the dialysis industry, led by the dominant franchises DaVita Inc. and Fresenius Medical Care, invested about $111 million to defeat it, or nearly six times what the proponents spent.

One day after that Nov. 6, 2018 election, the union vowed to refile the initiative in California and other states. SEIU-UHW did file another initiative, but Prop 23 looks dramatically different, focusing on requirements that clinics must meet such as staffing one doctor on site.

John Logan, director of labor employment studies at San Francisco State University, said unions have long used non-traditional tactics like ballot-box campaigns to get

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