Washington has joined four other western states in creating an independent review panel of any federally-approved COVID-19 vaccine in an attempt to assure anything that becomes available is safe and effective, Gov. Jay Inslee announced.
During a press conference Oct. 27, Inslee announced that Washington would be involved with the Western States Pact’s own review of a vaccine for the disease. He said the review panel would approve based on the “safety and efficacy” of vaccines following their approval from the Food and Drug Administration, calling the review an “added layer of assurance” for Washingtonians that any vaccine distributed in the state would be safe to use.
The pact was initially announced in April in which Inslee, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had agreed to align their respective states’ reopening efforts along a set of principles on the use of scientific data and protecting the states’ residents’ health.
Inslee said the review panel would have appointees from the member states of the pact — Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado and Nevada — that were experts in immunization and public health.
Inslee said the Western States Pact panel will review all publicly-available data with a goal to make a decision on approval “as soon as possible.” He added it was likely that more than one vaccine would be ready for review.
The governor said that when approved, Washington was prepared to distribute the vaccine “as equitable and efficient and safely as humanly possible.”
Inslee noted that concern over inadequate review of vaccines at a federal level was alleviated by the FDA publishing information on required data for its authorization of vaccines.
Regarding potential mandates for the vaccine, Inslee said there had not been any consideration on requiring the immunization for the whole Washington population or specifically school-aged youth.
Inslee said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the potential success of a vaccine in stopping the pandemic, pointing to “promising results” in trials, including cases where trials were stopped when potential adverse effects were identified.
“That’s a good sign, because it’s shown that the process is working. It’s not just going to be a rubber stamp,” Inslee said.
While a vaccine still awaits federal approval, Inslee pointed to current efforts in Washington to stop the spread of COVID-19. He pointed to the state’s “relative success” in mitigating the disease, comparing it to diminishing efforts in the White House, and across state lines in Idaho, which he said he was told may have to send hospital patients to other states due to its outbreak.
“I’m here to stay that Washington state has not given up in controlling this virus,” Inslee remarked.
The governor once again stressed the use of facial coverings even during small, private gatherings as a way to stop COVID-19 spread.
“That’s kind of tough, because we feel safe in our homes. It seems that we’re secure and we let our guard down,” Inslee commented. “This virus can sneak up on us, right in our own homes.”
Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy joined Inslee’s push for mask usage at any time when around individuals outside of one’s household.
Lofy pointed to research from the University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation that projected that 1,000 deaths could be prevented through Feb. 1 if mask use in Washington was increased to 95 percent. The latest state Department of Health data shows that there have been more than 2,300 deaths of individuals with COVID-19 in Washington since the pandemic began.
Lofy also pointed to a Western Washington University survey which showed that although 90 percent of respondents reported always or often wearing masks in public, only about half reported that kind of mask usage in private settings. She added younger adults were less likely to wear masks in private settings.
Lofy said reasons given for not wearing masks in private settings were a belief that the individual could not get infected, as well as that wearing a mask in such a setting felt “unnatural.”
Inslee noted that through the year there had been paradigm shifts of public participation due to COVID-19, likening the use of masks in private settings as another one of those necessary changes.
“That would have been pretty unusual for anyone to wear a mask when we went to a grocery store a year ago,” Inslee said. “It just shows you how we are capable in our state of embracing common-sense things that are based on science.”