State’s New COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Strategy Targets Disadvantaged Californians

March 4, 2021 Updated: March 4, 2021

California will now allocate 40 percent of all new COVID-19 vaccine doses for residents living in its most disadvantaged communities.

The effort, announced by state officials March 3, seeks to accelerate the reopening of the economy by slowing the spread of the virus in areas where it tends to propagate fastest.

In Southern California, many of the communities that would receive the added vaccines are located in the Central Valley and Los Angeles County. Santa Ana in Orange County would also be targeted.

It’s still unclear how the 40 percent number will be calculated locally, said Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner.

Currently, when a batch of vaccine supply is delivered to Orange County, the bulk is allocated to private health care facilities, and a smaller portion is given directly to the county for distribution.

It’s not known whether the state would reserve 40 percent of the total supply for disadvantaged communities, or subtract it from Orange County’s allotment of doses.

Although Wagner has been a staunch advocator of local control, he said it was a smart move to reserve a larger portion of supply to hard-hit communities.

“By and large, the idea that we want to get vaccines into the arms of people who are most at risk, I think is a good one,” he said. “I wish the governor throughout this pandemic had been so focused on where the problems are and addressing them there. So, you know, I’m a little unsure about what he’s got in mind. But at the end of the day, those disadvantaged communities are disproportionately suffering, and I have no problem getting vaccines to them.”

Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of Health and Human Services, said the allocated doses would be spread out to about 400 zip codes, where about 8 million people could receive the shot.

State officials also said that after another 400,000 doses are given in disadvantaged communities, they will consider reducing the restrictions for counties to exit the most restrictive, purple, tier of the state’s reopening guidelines.

California counties looking to drop out of the purple tier must have an adjusted daily COVID-19 case rate equal to or less than 7 new cases per day per 100,000 people, but after the state vaccinates 2 million residents in hard-hit areas, they will increase the threshold to 10 cases per day per 100,000 people.

The modification would allow many counties currently stuck in the purple tier to slide into the less-restrictive red tier.

If the change occurred right now, Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties would be able to eligible to switch tiers. Additionally, San Diego, Riverside, and Ventura counties would be close to eligibility.

Additionally, once the state distributes 4 million doses in the hardest-hit areas, it will relax the thresholds for qualifying to the orange and yellow tiers.

The move comes as Santa Ana’s Mayor Vicente Sarmiento called on officials at all levels to increase vaccinations in the city.

“We have to take inventory of who stepped up and helped our city and residents, because those 700+ [Santa Ana] deaths, those families, those are people we know,” Sarmiento said during a March 2 council meeting. “We should be very, very angry. There’s direct responsibility for people who said nothing and did nothing.”

But Supervisor Wagner said that even if allocations are given to disadvantaged communities, residents in those areas might not always want to be inoculated.

“I also need folks to recognize that it’s not just a matter of making the dosages available, there is more resistance in the disadvantaged communities to taking the vaccine than there are elsewhere, and I would hate to lose opportunities to vaccinate the older folks who are at risk with some forced allocation that does not reflect reality,” he said.

“But if those communities that are being targeted by the governor are receptive to the vaccine, I am all in favor of making sure they get vaccinated.”

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis