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  • Reyna Wong

California & COVID-19 Vaccines

Learn more about California’s vaccine plan and the mounting inefficiencies of the system.

Since the beginning of 2021, California has been facing mass inefficiencies in its vaccine distribution, which is consequential considering the populous state has largely become the epicenter of the country’s winter outbreak.

In late January, Governor Newsom announced new changes to the vaccine rollout plan. The initial plan placed the responsibility on counties and cities to distribute vaccines which quickly exposed the existing disparities in the system. While wealthier areas like Long Beach and the Bay Area were able to efficiently vaccinate the healthcare workers and nursing home residents during phase one, other lower-income communities were quickly overburdened and unable to meet the demand for eligible residents.

California has consistently ranked in the bottom third of all states in terms of vaccinations administered per capita, as more than a third of the state’s vaccines have yet to be distributed. In the face of mounting frustration with the lack of efficiency, Newsom introduced the creation of a statewide vaccine portal focusing on an “equity-driven, community-based partnership.” However, in addition to the establishment of the portal, Californian officials have tried to speed rollout by expanding eligibility to all elders above the age of 65, prioritizing them before many healthcare workers and vulnerable communities, leading some experts to argue that California is sacrificing equity for speed. The statewide revamp with the portal and expansion of eligibility have also been joined with the lifting of regional stay-at-home orders which continues to endure its fair share of criticism.

The general decentralization and lack of statewide support seem to be one of the most salient issues faced by the populous state due to the heavy reliance on individual health departments. As such, part of Newsom’s announcement introduced a third-party organization into the mix, specifically Blue Shield, to help centralize the distribution program with oversight over which counties and providers will continue to distribute doses as part of a vaccine network.

This is not to say that the handling of the vaccines has been a complete administrative failure on the state’s part. California’s original plan was structured after the state’s flu shot model in which county governments tend to act as the main administrators with the state only aiding in an advisory role. Normally, the flexibility provided by this system is a benefit to officials, but due to the unpredictable and devastating nature of the pandemic, the lack of centralization has led to difficulties with implementation and a lack of follow-through.

There is no telling whether or not Governor Newsom’s revamp will result in any drastic changes. However, as California continues to explore different distribution options to speed up vaccine rollout, it’s essential for state officials to address the existing disparities in the state and balance speed with equity.




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