To ensure that the vaccine is equitably distributed to people of color and lower-income Californians, some counties are prioritizing communities that score lower on the California Healthy Places Index.
California now aims to immunize 1 million people within the next 10 days.
Officials are recruiting dentists and other health professionals to become vaccinators, and Gov. Gavin Newsom asked state lawmakers to approve $300 million to support the vaccination push.
Nearly 530,400 doses of either the newly authorized Pfizer or Moderna vaccines had been given by the end of Wednesday, just over a quarter of the more than 2 million doses shipped to California hospitals and county health departments.
However, many health professionals are cut-off:
In written comments submitted before the meeting, doctors in the first priority group who aren’t affiliated with large health providers complained that they had no way to obtain vaccines for themselves and their staff even though they treat COVID-19 patients.
Licensed midwives and home health care workers had similar complaints.
The current system “leaves out workers who are not employed by the major health systems, and some of these workers face a high risk of COVID infection,” wrote Dr. Ana Sanchez, an Orange County ob/gyn, in her public comment. She noted that she and her staff provide prenatal care to mostly low-income women, some of whom are infected.
A doctor for the Solano County jail wrote that he was surprised to find that he was not included in the first priority group despite treating COVID patients.
“We are the ‘forgotten physicians,’” wrote Dr. Lysa Nguyen, another Orange County physician in a four-doctor family medicine practice. “Though we are not working in the hospitals, we are swabbing patients and providing outpatient care to those with COVID-19 in hopes of helping our local ERs from being inundated.”
At the meeting, a state working group of experts unveiled newly refined priorities for which groups should be vaccinated after health care workers and nursing home residents. These recommendations will be finalized soon by state health officials.
The next wave: Phase 1b:
Under these recommendations, the next wave of vaccinations, known as Phase 1b, includes people over 74 years old plus teachers and childcare workers, food industry and agriculture workers and non-medical first responders.
Phase 1b’s second-priority group includes people over 64 years old, prisoners and the homeless, and essential transportation, manufacturing and construction workers at risk of exposure.
The final priority group, Phase 1c,:
It includes people over 49 years old, people ages 16 to 64 with chronic conditions or disabilities, and essential workers in the water, defense, energy, communications, financial and government sectors, among others.
State public health officials set the priority groups, but counties have some leeway within them to prioritize certain occupations or high-risk people. In an agricultural county, for example, migrant farm laborers might be prioritized over other workers. Public health officials acknowledged that it’s difficult to tell when each county will be able to move from one phase to the next, but emphasized that local health officials should be the ones to decide.
How will counties decide which people over 74 should be immunized first?
What documents will workers need to provide to prove their eligibility in a priority group? Who’s responsible for ensuring that people don’t jump the line? Should a pharmacy be able to collect social security or driver’s license information as a requirement for immunization? What about people, including the blind or disabled, who need help with transportation to a vaccination site?
The answers are just starting to surface as officials continue to work on the daunting logistics of delivering highly perishable vaccines to millions of Californians.
For example, to ensure that the vaccine is equitably distributed to people of color and lower-income Californians — who have disproportionately been affected by COVID-19 — some counties are prioritizing communities that score lower on the California Healthy Places Index, which identifies disadvantaged neighborhoods and highlights their health concerns.
Health officials said Californians can call the state COVID hotline, open seven days a week, at 1-833-422-4255 to talk to a staff member who can advise on when they will be eligible depending on their job, age and other criteria.