State to reserve 40 percent of COVID-19 vaccines for hard-hit areas

By Eli Walsh

Bay City News Foundation

State officials said Thursday that 40 percent of weekly coronavirus vaccine shipments will be reserved in an effort to ensure communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic have access to the vaccine.

According to state public health data, 40 percent of California’s COVID-19 cases and deaths have been confirmed in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index, a data tool developed by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California that compares infection rates in census tracts across the state.

HPI data also shows that households with incomes of less than $40,000 have an infection rate of 11.3, more than double the 5.2 infection rate of households with an income of $120,000 or more.

The state’s wealthier residents have also been vaccinated at roughly twice the rate of the state’s low-income residents, according to state officials.

“Getting vaccines effectively distributed to eligible residents in these areas is critical,” state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Thursday during a briefing on the vaccine allocation plan.

“Doing so will give our entire state greater confidence that we’ve protected against the most significant levels of disease transmission in communities that have been, throughout this pandemic, the hardest hit,” he said.

The 40 percent allocation for hard-hit communities represents an increase of roughly 25 percent over the current allocation of vaccine doses, according to Ghaly.

State officials have repeatedly referred to distributing the vaccine with equity as the state’s “North Star,” but Ghaly said the state waited until now to dedicate vaccine doses to the hardest-hit communities in part because the state’s vaccine supply continues to grow.

On Monday, the state also began dedicating 10 percent of the weekly vaccine shipments sent to county health departments and multi-county health entities like Kaiser Permanente to educators and child care workers.

Vaccinating disproportionately affected communities will also enable the state to modify its reopening thresholds in the coming weeks, Ghaly said, making it easier for counties to leave the most-restrictive purple tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Roughly 1.6 million vaccine doses have been administered in the state’s hardest-hit communities that will be targeted as part of the 40 percent allocation, according to Ghaly.

Once the state hits 2 million doses administered in those communities, the threshold to move out of the purple tier – which would allow counties to reopen indoor dining, indoor gyms and other businesses – would move from seven new cases per day per 100,000 residents to 10.

Ghaly said it will take roughly one to two weeks to meet that 2 million dose threshold.

At that point, all 11 counties in the greater Bay Area would be out of the purple tier if their case rates remain at or below what they were on Tuesday.

The Bay Area counties of San Francisco, Napa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin have already moved into the less-restrictive red tier over the last two weeks.

“(It) certainly feels, given the innovations with vaccine and where we are as a state, (like) a chance to re-evaluate the evidence and the science that we’ve learned over time, really that outdoor activities with masks and controlled mixing can be done safely in many parts of the state, especially as transmission rates are lower,” Ghaly said.

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