UCSF expert predicts annual COVID shot

A COVID shot every year?

That's the prediction from a San Francisco doctor serving on President Biden's pandemic advisory board.

And wearing two masks at once?

"Why not?," responds Dr. Robert Rodriguez, a professor of Emergency Medicine, one of 3 UCSF experts tapped for Biden's 13-member COVID team.

Friday, Rodriguez was part of an online town hall with North Bay leaders, discussing the vaccine roll-out.

"I am confident that in the days ahead all of us are going to see a difference," said host U.S. Rep Jared Huffman, (D) San Rafael.

Huffman expressed optimism that the new administration would bring more science, urgency, and resources into fighting the coronavirus.

The question he said he is repeatedly asked "where can I get my shot and when?"

Both Marin and Sonoma County Public Health Officers admitted there is confusion and frustration among people who cannot get appointments.

"It's like living paycheck to paycheck," said Dr. Matt Willis of Marin, who described how too little product is arriving, without predictability, making it difficult to plan or meet public demand.

"We find out every Wednesday the doses we'll receive the following Monday," said Willis, "and that could be zero or thousands."

Marin County has vaccinated just under 9 percent of its population - mostly people 75 and older.

This coming week, 500 new doses are available for the entire county on any given day.

"Our issue is doses, we have plenty of people to vaccinate and everything else in place but we need doses," he lamented.

Neighboring Sonoma County is in the same fix. 

With twice the population of Marin, Sonoma County has vaccinated close to 40,000 people at least once, but also suffers from a shortage of vaccine.

"We're looking forward to more relief coming from the federal government," said Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County Public Health Officer.

Mase noted Sonoma is one of four California counties included in a pilot program of new state-run sites, opening this week.

"That's huge for us, we provided the space and they did everything."

About 400 vaccinations a day are available at the new location, the Rohnert Park Community Center.

"They gave us the shot, and then as we went out there were people applauding and cheering," said David Mark-Raymond of Sebastopol. 

Mark-Raymond and his brother both received the vaccine.  

"It's a relief because I'm a cancer survivor and my immune system is compromised," said Mark-Raymond.

"It would not be a good idea for me to contract COVID." 

Mark-Raymond was wearing 2 masks layered, as more people are now opting to do.

That query was raised in the town hall too.

"Sure, wearing one on top of the other, if that doesn't bother you, go ahead and do that," said Rodriguez, "but don't be freaked out if you're not double-masking."

It's the wearing of any mask at all, that matters most, the medical speakers agreed.

They all spoke on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, as protection for the person vaccinated and also for those around them.

Rodriguez is now researching why up to half the U.S. population is wary of getting the vaccine.    

He urges people not to hesitate.

"Your odds of getting sick with COVID are hundreds of times more likely if you don't get a vaccine," he said.

In his ICU work during the pandemic, he has seen the virus strike down all age groups.

"I've seen 20, 30, and 40 year-olds wind up on a ventilator and unfortunately die," said Rodriguez.

Because of how COVID mutates, he believes it's likely the shots will be annual, like influenza. 

"Perhaps we'll have yearly COVID19 vaccines, in order to address the variants that are arising."

Congressman Huffman will hold another COVID town hall at 4 p.m. Wed. Feb 3, with Public Health officials from Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, and Dr. Heather Nye, Medical Chief at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

The forums are streamed on Huffman's Facebook page.

Participants can ask questions in the comment section or submit them in advance to huffmanQandA@mail.house.gov.   

"The message unfortunately is patience, we will get to everyone," concluded Dr. Willis, who hopes to have Marin County full vaccinated by summer.

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at debora.villalon@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter @DeboraKTVU.