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Vaccine appointments may be backed up for several weeks

Palo Alto resident Margaret Park, 91, is accompanied by her son to the waiting area after receiving her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 9, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters.

Californians frustrated by the never-ending hunt for COVID-19 vaccine appointments may have to wait several weeks until appointments are more readily available, Blue Shield's CEO said in an interview with CalMatters on March 26.

Blue Shield, the insurer tasked to oversee the state's vaccine distribution, is aware of Californians' frustrations and health care providers' complaints, and is working to quickly expand distribution so that everyone who wants a dose can get one, CEO Paul Markovich said.

"Immediately on the first day, there probably won't be availability for everybody, just because…when you make millions of people eligible overnight, there's not millions of appointments immediately available at that moment," Markovich said. "But I would say by the time we get to the end of April, or potentially early May, I don't think that's going to be an issue."

Blue Shield says California now has the capacity to administer 4 million vaccines a week. But to meet that capacity, manufacturers have to deliver the vaccine supply they have promised, Markovich said.

The scope of California's vaccination push is massive. To date, 16.4 million vaccine doses have been administered, more than the amounts that some entire countries — Russia and Germany — have administered. About 18% of Californians are fully vaccinated, but far more are needed to achieve the herd immunity that will ease pandemic restrictions.

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California is expected to receive 2.5 million vaccines per week in early April and close to 3 million by the second half of the month. That's a substantial increase from the approximate 1.8 million vaccines a week the state is currently receiving. The boost allows California to expand eligibility to residents who are 50 and older starting April 1, and then to everyone 16 and older beginning on April 15.

At the same time, two mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles run by federal and state agencies are expected to close April 11, California officials announced on March 26. The federal-state pilot project ends then, although the local health agencies may take over the sites.

California's no-bid, abruptly-announced contract with Blue Shield to oversee vaccine distribution has been controversial. Some counties refused to sign a contract with the insurer, fearing giving authority to a private company. Counties now are allowed to sign modified agreements with the state to join Blue Shield's network.

In a troubleshooting meeting on March 26 for vaccinators, some doctors complained that they had tried to sign up with Blue Shield yet couldn't get doses for their patients.

But that's by design, Markovich said. Blue Shield first will bring on board the clinics and doctors who can reach the most people, he said.

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"We're certainly going to get back to everybody who's interested," Markovich said. "But some of that delay has been intentional. We didn't see a lot of point in making them go through the work if they were going to then have to potentially wait three or four or more weeks" for doses.

As of March 25, only 20 of the 61 county and city health departments had signed onto the new network. Only Kern and Orange counties signed up directly with Blue Shield. Blue Shield's network so far includes 270 providers with 2,100 sites, including hospitals, pharmacies and community clinics.

Markovich said he expects all counties and more providers to make the switch in the coming days — if not by March 31, the original goal, then soon after that.

Doctors and other providers must sign onto the Blue Shield network to continue getting doses.

For months, the state has been dogged by concerns over equity as Latino and Black Californians hardest hit by the pandemic are being vaccinated at lower rates than white people.

A study published on March 26 found that the age-based approach in California helped white people more than people of color. That's because California's older population is more white.

Vaccinating all Californians 75 and older would have prevented the deaths of two-thirds of white people compared to 42% of Black people's deaths and 35% of Latinos' deaths, according to the study.

"An age-based approach in California benefits the state's older white populations at the expense of younger BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) populations with a higher risk of death from COVID-19," wrote the researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, University of Minnesota and other institutions.

The study suggests that California's more recent move to put more focus on disadvantaged neighborhoods will improve this inequity.

California this month began earmarking 40% of its vaccine doses for the state's lowest income and most diverse communities.

CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation.

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Email Barbara Feder Ostrov and Ana B. Ibarra at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Vaccine appointments may be backed up for several weeks

by / CalMatters

Uploaded: Wed, Mar 31, 2021, 8:52 am

Californians frustrated by the never-ending hunt for COVID-19 vaccine appointments may have to wait several weeks until appointments are more readily available, Blue Shield's CEO said in an interview with CalMatters on March 26.

Blue Shield, the insurer tasked to oversee the state's vaccine distribution, is aware of Californians' frustrations and health care providers' complaints, and is working to quickly expand distribution so that everyone who wants a dose can get one, CEO Paul Markovich said.

"Immediately on the first day, there probably won't be availability for everybody, just because…when you make millions of people eligible overnight, there's not millions of appointments immediately available at that moment," Markovich said. "But I would say by the time we get to the end of April, or potentially early May, I don't think that's going to be an issue."

Blue Shield says California now has the capacity to administer 4 million vaccines a week. But to meet that capacity, manufacturers have to deliver the vaccine supply they have promised, Markovich said.

The scope of California's vaccination push is massive. To date, 16.4 million vaccine doses have been administered, more than the amounts that some entire countries — Russia and Germany — have administered. About 18% of Californians are fully vaccinated, but far more are needed to achieve the herd immunity that will ease pandemic restrictions.

California is expected to receive 2.5 million vaccines per week in early April and close to 3 million by the second half of the month. That's a substantial increase from the approximate 1.8 million vaccines a week the state is currently receiving. The boost allows California to expand eligibility to residents who are 50 and older starting April 1, and then to everyone 16 and older beginning on April 15.

At the same time, two mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles run by federal and state agencies are expected to close April 11, California officials announced on March 26. The federal-state pilot project ends then, although the local health agencies may take over the sites.

California's no-bid, abruptly-announced contract with Blue Shield to oversee vaccine distribution has been controversial. Some counties refused to sign a contract with the insurer, fearing giving authority to a private company. Counties now are allowed to sign modified agreements with the state to join Blue Shield's network.

In a troubleshooting meeting on March 26 for vaccinators, some doctors complained that they had tried to sign up with Blue Shield yet couldn't get doses for their patients.

But that's by design, Markovich said. Blue Shield first will bring on board the clinics and doctors who can reach the most people, he said.

"We're certainly going to get back to everybody who's interested," Markovich said. "But some of that delay has been intentional. We didn't see a lot of point in making them go through the work if they were going to then have to potentially wait three or four or more weeks" for doses.

As of March 25, only 20 of the 61 county and city health departments had signed onto the new network. Only Kern and Orange counties signed up directly with Blue Shield. Blue Shield's network so far includes 270 providers with 2,100 sites, including hospitals, pharmacies and community clinics.

Markovich said he expects all counties and more providers to make the switch in the coming days — if not by March 31, the original goal, then soon after that.

Doctors and other providers must sign onto the Blue Shield network to continue getting doses.

For months, the state has been dogged by concerns over equity as Latino and Black Californians hardest hit by the pandemic are being vaccinated at lower rates than white people.

A study published on March 26 found that the age-based approach in California helped white people more than people of color. That's because California's older population is more white.

Vaccinating all Californians 75 and older would have prevented the deaths of two-thirds of white people compared to 42% of Black people's deaths and 35% of Latinos' deaths, according to the study.

"An age-based approach in California benefits the state's older white populations at the expense of younger BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) populations with a higher risk of death from COVID-19," wrote the researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, University of Minnesota and other institutions.

The study suggests that California's more recent move to put more focus on disadvantaged neighborhoods will improve this inequity.

California this month began earmarking 40% of its vaccine doses for the state's lowest income and most diverse communities.

CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation.

Email Barbara Feder Ostrov and Ana B. Ibarra at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.

Comments

The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2021 at 12:10 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 31, 2021 at 12:10 pm

Everything regarding the pandemic response has been a disaster in our country thanks to the previous administration. If “the former guy” would not have been crying about election fraud and constantly golfing, and got the vaccines ordered and ready to ship immediately like he lied and said he did with Operation Warp Speed, vaccinations would have been ahead of where we are right now.
In fact, we would likely be approaching the normalcy we all desire now in March instead of a few more months down the road. Thankfully Biden stepped in and has done an incredible job of cleaning up the mess made by “the former guy.” I know the appointments being pushed back are frustrating for everyone. Keep in mind that thanks to finally having a real President in Biden, our vaccine roll out has been much better than the roll out in European countries and we are actually ahead of schedule in administering shots in Biden’s first one hundred days. Be patient and until you can get your shot, stay safe everyone.
Finally, I disagree with the notes toward the end of the article implying the age based approach being wrong. The federal government put older people in category 1A based on the disease more likely causing death in older people. This was not made based on a person’s race. This has proven to be the correct approach as deaths per day in the United States have dropped dramatically to under 1000 a day down from previous highs of 4000 a day. Again, this goes back to my previous point. Thanks to the previous administration not getting the job done, we didn’t have enough vaccine to go around. If there was enough vaccine in the first place we wouldn’t even have had to worry about categorizing distribution by age or race. It seems like based on the UCSF study, an argument could have been made to have moved people of color into category 1B, instead of teachers, but the loud protesting families wanted the schools open. [Portion removed.]


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2021 at 1:27 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 31, 2021 at 1:27 pm

Opening up the elegibility to everyone is not a good thing when there is no security of availability. Canceled appointments are already happening and will only get worse when the supply and demand increases.

Another fail on the vaccine front.


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