California seizes control over struggling vaccine delivery
LOS ANGELES (AP) - In light of widespread criticism of the slow adoption of vaccines, California is redesigning its delivery system by centralizing its collection of county systems and streamlining the registration, notification, and authorization of appointments for its 40 million residents.
A new statewide secretary will work with undisclosed private third-party administrators to spearhead operations and delivery to decide where to go for state vaccine supply if federal supply increases to meet demand, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.
A new registration tool also allows the state to better track where the vaccines went and who was vaccinated, and residents can schedule an appointment when it is their turn.
California has seen fewer people convicted of vaccinating, even if there is a national vaccine shortage, which appears to be its biggest bottleneck. Approximately 2.4 million out of 4.5 million doses shipped are administered. At the same time, confused residents are demanding more information about when they could be vaccinated, which is thwarted by the licensing rules that vary by county and hospital system.
Yolanda Richardson, newly appointed secretary for the government agency, said at a news conference Tuesday that this new system is about "preparing California to make sure we can get the vaccine out when more supplies are available".
Several of the state's 58 counties have pushed for more vaccines, saying they could vaccinate far more people if they had a more stable and larger supply. Fresno County, for example, said it requested 38,000 doses last week but received only 8,000 and had to stop vaccinating new people because they feared they would not have enough for the required second shots.
The state has said it also doesn't know how much vaccine the federal government will give it, and it hopes that will change with a new president in the White House.
Richardson and Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's secretary for health and human services, had few details on how the new system will work or what will happen to huge vaccination sites at places like Dodger Stadium in LA and Disneyland in Orange County that vaccinate thousands of people have a day.
The change should, however, allow districts and hospital networks that have scheduled appointments and established eligibility under general government guidance to move more consistently. Residents were amazed by the different systems, as some counties will vaccinate people 65 and over while others are restricted to the more restrictive 75 and above.
The districts welcome change when it means more clarity and information, but also warn that local governments are the eyes on the scene making sure that vulnerable populations - including those without insurance or transport - are vaccinated.
"We'd see this change move from a system that didn't work, that was structured piecemeal, to a new system that could work if it is carefully structured and doesn't risk the populations we want to protect most. " said Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Association of Counties.
But regulators and officials at a Santa Clara County's board meeting Tuesday were concerned about the idea of a third party administrator making changes for such a massive state. Dr. Jeff Smith, the county executive director, said he was "trying to decipher press releases, announcements and speeches" to figure out what will happen.
Teri Perlstein, who founded the Facebook group VaxMe OC to help frustrated residents navigate Orange County's vaccine registration page, said more consistency is urgently needed. She said she answered questions from teachers about whether they can go to Long Beach, Los Angeles County, to get an early vaccination before they can get one in Orange County.
"I don't think it's fair if it's inconsistent depending on which side of the line you live on," she said.
With the recent announcement, Perlstein said there were still many open questions about the state's plan, including whether it would affect residents who received their first shot and are waiting for their second. She also asked what papers key workers would need to produce in order to receive a vaccine from the state.
Right now, the biggest problem facing residents is "the lack of real communication," she said.
California has stated that health, education, and childcare workers, ambulance workers, and food and farm workers, and people 65 and over are eligible for vaccinations. After that, eligibility is based on age.
The third-party administrator or administrators assign vaccines directly to providers, including public health systems, pharmacies, health systems, public hospitals, community health centers, pharmacies, and pop-up websites.
The state has launched a website called “My Turn,” which allows people to sign up to be notified when they are eligible for a vaccine and to make appointments.
Dr. Charles Bailey, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Providence Mission Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange Counties, welcomed the change. He said hospitals are equipped to vaccinate their own workers, but that's much smaller than what it takes to make the vaccine available to the public.
He also said that simplifying the requirements also makes the process easier, and that advanced age is the biggest risk factor that goes beyond all other underlying conditions. If the state seeks an equitable distribution of the vaccine, counties can focus on vaccinating as many people as possible.
"It will keep the counties from having to defend decisions that they obviously don't need to spend time on," he said.
Har reported from San Francisco
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