‘Not Enough’: Newsom Says More Vaccine Doses Needed, As State Transitions to New Centralized System

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Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks after touring a COVID-19 vaccination site at the Long Beach Convention Center on Feb. 22, 2021. Newsom pointed out that this mass vaccination site is only operating at a third of its full capacity due to a lack of supply. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

On a visit to Long Beach Monday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the only thing holding back the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan is the limited capacity of manufacturers.

“There's not enough doses. There's not enough vaccines to accommodate the need and demand,” Newsom said during a press briefing at a mass vaccination site at the Long Beach Convention Center.

“Manufacturing supply in the United States of America is limited,” Newsom stressed. "While it's good that we are administering roughly 200,000 doses a day, we're receiving just shy of that if you average the amount of doses we receive on a weekly basis."

The latest numbers from the state show that more than 7.4 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have so far been administered in California. For both of those vaccines, two doses are required per person.

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.

Among the requirements: Rural Californians should be able to reach a vaccine site within 60 minutes and urban residents within 30 minutes. Homebound people must receive the vaccine at their residences. The state must be able to administer 3 million vaccines per week by March 1, dependent on supply. Now it is doing about 1.4 million.

Blue Shield must also work with the state to develop an algorithm to determine how vaccines are allocated and set incentive payments and performance goals aimed at getting providers to give doses out more quickly and to the right populations. The state also will set goals for what percentage of vaccines go to people in low-income or otherwise disadvantaged areas.

Some counties and providers wonder how Blue Shield and the health care network Kaiser Permanente, which has also been tapped to help out, will cultivate the trusted relationships needed to vaccinate the underserved populations Newsom hopes to reach.

St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, a community health center whose clinics serve Black and Latino residents in south and central Los Angeles, plans to open three new vaccination sites and start inoculating worshippers at churches.

“It seems like we’ve got our groove on now, the counties are getting vaccine, particularly in the bigger counties, they’re getting it into the low-income communities of color,” CEO Jim Mangia said. However, he said “the incredible power that a non-elected body” like Blue Shield has over vaccine distribution is disconcerting.

Carrigan said there are currently more than 90 vaccination providers in her county of 900,000 people, and her office doesn’t have a say which ones will remain under Blue Shield.

The county has been using spreadsheets to keep track of vaccinations and will continue to do so for people who already have appointments and for those who have received first doses and are awaiting a second, she said.

“We feel like in Kern County we have this system dialed in. We’re ready. We just need more supply,” she said. “So making changes without a lot of explanation, without a lot of details, is a little bit scary for us, to be frank.”

This post includes reporting from KQED’s Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí and the Associated Press.

KQED has brought together information on how and where to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in the Bay Area and is answering questions you may have about the process. Check out our guide, available in both English and Spanish.