Dr. Monica Gandhi, the Associate Chief in the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine at University of California, San Francisco, says it’s no longer necessary for California to have any COVID-19 limitations due to the high rate of vaccinations and low test positivity rate throughout the state.
Ghandi adds that the science shows people who have been vaccinated are safe no matter the activity they’re partaking in. But the infectious disease expert says it’s equally important the state continues efforts to convince hesitant Californians to get the vaccine by using strategies like incentives, compassionate education and word of mouth.
After years on the frontlines of the HIV epidemic, Gandhi has seen firsthand how money or gift cards can motivate people to finally get the shot.
“It’s called contingency management, and it really has been a very useful strategy,” she told “Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen. “Incentives like free beer, a doughnut, million-dollar lottery tickets. I mean, this is helpful for people. This is how human nature works, and I love that we’re incentivizing people.”
Gandhi notes that the CDC’s recommendation to allow vaccinated people to go maskless may have been the best incentive of all. After the department’s announcement on May 13, she says there was an 18% uptick in vaccination rates.
The UCSF physician also adds that the vaccine should be more widely available at convenient locations like pharmacies or doctors' offices to entice individuals to get the two doses. Likewise, people should have adequate childcare options while receiving the vaccine and be offered time off work to recover from the severe immune responses that can occur after the second shot.
And once people are fully vaccinated, she argues, masks are no longer necessary.
“The mask can be thrown away after getting the vaccine,” Gandhi said. “I know it’s hard, by the way, because I do think people are attached to the masks. It really is speaking to the effectiveness of the vaccine that people don’t have to wear it after.”
Gandhi says California got many things right and wrong over the course of the pandemic. She thinks Gov. Gavin Newsom excelled at getting the vaccine out into poorer and more rural communities across the state, but struggled when it came to messaging, relying on a fear-based approach rather than a factual one.
“In California, there was this idea that the only way to stay safe from the virus was to close everything, schools and everything. That was the only way to stay safe, but that is actually not accurate,” she explained. “The ways to stay safe are to use mitigation procedures, masks, distancing, ventilation, keeping those areas safe, reducing capacity, keeping those schools open... We could have had a lot more things open and still kept our case rates low.”
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