Newsom held up the city of Long Beach — which started inoculating teachers last month — as a successful model of how local health authorities can expedite the reopening of schools. Long Beach Unified plans to resume in-person learning for elementary schools on March 29.
He said, however, that the city is still limited by low vaccine supply, noting that the conference center site is only operating at about a third of its capacity.
This week, the state begins its process of transitioning to a new system of delivering, tracking and scheduling coronavirus vaccines in select counties, a first step in Newsom’s plan to smooth out what has been a confusing and disjointed rollout hampered by limited national supply.
The governor announced last month that his administration had tapped insurer Blue Shield to design and manage a centralized system to get doses out quickly and equitably. He said the state also needs robust data to ensure vaccines are distributed to low-income communities, largely Latino and Black, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
An initial list provided by the state showed 10 counties in the inland sections of Central and Southern California chosen to be the first to make the transition to the Blue Shield system, beginning this week. San Francisco and other Bay Area counties are expected to transition to that system next month.
And while the initial counties involved understand the goals, there’s much confusion among local officials about what exact changes will occur.
Brynn Carrigan, Kern County’s director of public health, said she was told that starting Sunday everyone in her county must make appointments through the state’s vaccine sign-up system called My Turn. In neighboring Fresno County, a spokeswoman for St. Agnes Medical Center said it had no plans to switch its scheduling system.
“It’s scary to give up control of a system that we’ve spent a lot of time on, that’s working really well right now,” Carrigan said. “Our hope is there’s not a lot of hiccups and this goes smoothly.”
Darrel Ng, vaccine spokesman for the state’s public health agency, declined to answer questions about what to expect during the transition. But he said the state and Blue Shield “have worked tirelessly to plan and implement phased changes to more efficiently and equitably administer vaccines.” He said they will share more information next week.
Blue Shield spokesman Matthew Yi also declined to provide more detail, saying in a statement Saturday that his company is working “closely with state public health officials, local health jurisdictions, healthcare providers and others” to overcome the pandemic.
California has used stadiums, arenas, fairgrounds — even Disneyland — to build a large capacity to administer shots, but much has gone unused because of the limited availability of vaccines. Residents were frustrated when the state first started vaccinating the general population in January, with 58 counties and individual hospital systems setting their own rules for who could make an appointment and how.
While state officials have been clear on what they want the new system to accomplish, they have provided little information on how counties and other providers are expected to get there. And officials are upfront that they don’t have answers yet to critical questions, including how they will measure equity, what the monthly equity target will be or even who the complete network of providers will be.
What is sure is that counties will not be allowed to add any more vaccine providers, because the state through Blue Shield will ultimately decide who administers shots.
The state's fast-tracked, no-bid contract charges Blue Shield with creating a “statewide vaccine network” to ensure the rapid delivery of vaccines.