Newsom touts new Southern California vaccine pop-ups as counties transition to Blue Shield network


Gov. Gavin Newsom visited two federally funded pop-up coronavirus vaccination sites in Southern California on Sunday, Feb. 21, part of a statewide tour of such spots aimed at immunizing the state’s hardest-hit communities. The visit coincided with the launch of the transition to a new centralized system — which will include Riverside County in its first wave — to manage the state’s thus-far bumpy rollout of the badly needed vaccine.

Newsom, flanked by several local elected leaders, said the mobile vaccination sites are vital to amp up the state’s ability to deliver vaccines equitably to the state’s poorest neighborhoods, where case rates among Latinos and Blacks far surpass more affluent and Whiter areas and where vaccination rates lag far behind.

“We’re not even close to where we need to be. We’ve got to step things up,” Newsom said. “It’s an effort to acknowledge the obvious and actually deliver what we’ve been promoting and promising.”

The site in L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood — which opened on the heels of a permanent mega-site at Cal State L.A. — popped up in area that might look familiar in underserved pockets from Santa Ana to Lancaster to San Bernardino. In the morning, a basketball court behind the Boys & Girls Club of Ramona Gardens transformed into a center, complete with tents, medical staff, an RV and other essential equipment.

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The Boyle Heights location — as well as another site Newsom visited at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood — aimed to give 250 doses Sunday. At day’s end, the impromptu centers are packed up and moved on to a new location the next day. Both were supported by the federal government and operated through the state, and join similar sites around Southern California run by local agencies.

Such numbers, even small, are significant in communities where the goal is to target neighborhoods where residents may lack wi-fi to make a vaccine appointment or a vehicle to get them to the clinic, said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, who represents the area.

“This is just the beginning of the end when it comes to this pandemic. We still have a lot of work to do,” Gomez said.

That work enters a new phase this week throughout Southern California and the state, where a new system of delivering, tracking and scheduling coronavirus vaccines is being rolled out in select counties — including Riverside County.

It’s a first step in Newsom’s plan to smooth out what has been a confusing and disjointed rollout hampered by technical woes, confusing messaging and a severely limited national stockpile.

Newsom touts new Southern California vaccine pop-ups as counties transition to Blue Shield network California Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, with Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, District 51, left, and Los Angeles City Council member Kevin de Leon, right, visit the Ramona Gardens Recreation Center in Los Angeles to discuss the state’s efforts to vaccinate hard-to-reach and disproportionately impacted communities in Los Angeles Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. California’s new system of delivering, tracking and scheduling coronavirus vaccines is being rolled out in select counties, a first step in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to smooth out what has been a confusing and disjointed rollout hampered by limited national supply. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Health insurance giant Blue Shield of California has contracted with the state to design and manage the new centralized system to get doses out quickly and equitably.

Newsom said Sunday that the partnership will be vital in ensuring robust administration of the vaccine throughout the state, while also ensuring that administration is fair.

But the transition has met with some concern over the extent to which the Blue Shield system will override the work counties already have done to build out their own vaccine networks in communities they know best.

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 this week, although one county said Friday it would shift later. While the counties understand the goals, there’s confusion about specific changes and when they will occur.

State officials have been upfront that they don’t have answers yet to critical questions, including how they will measure equity, what the monthly equity target is or even the complete network of providers. What is sure is that counties will not be allowed to add any more vaccine providers, because the state through Blue Shield will decide who administers shots.

Counties in the initial group include Riverside, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Imperial, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus. Starting March 3, another group that includes Los Angeles, which has 10 million of California’s nearly 40 million residents, will be added. San Francisco is among the counties being added in mid-March, though the dates and counties in each group are subject to change.

As of Sunday, Riverside County had yet to receive confirmation or further details from Blue Shield or the state regarding the new delivery system, according to Brooke Federico, the county’s spokeswoman.

However, Federico said the county has dealt with “extremely” limited quantities of vaccine, coupled with an “extreme” demand. Riverside County has worked to administer its vaccines to groups such as seniors, farmworkers, healthcare workers and educators within days of receiving them, she said.

“We continue to want to see additional vaccines available for our Riverside County residents,” Federico said.

Brynn Carrigan, Kern County’s director of public health, said she was told that starting Sunday everyone 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 in the coming week.

Newsom on Sunday stood by the Blue Shield agreement, saying it will also be essential in providing a three-week window that counties can count on to plan for when and how much vaccine they’ll be receiving from the federal government.

Blue Shield spokesman Matthew Yi also declined to provide more detail, saying in a statement Saturday they are working “closely with state public health officials, local health jurisdictions, healthcare providers and others” to overcome the pandemic.

Still, at the core of all concerns is just how limited the vaccine still is.

Newsom said that more than 7.3 million doses of vaccine have been administered statewide, while acknowledging that many communities have struggled to keep up with the need for inoculations.

  • 1.8 million have been administered in Los Angeles County;
  • 620,629 in Orange County;
  • 375,289 in Riverside County; and
  • 300,951 in San Bernardino County

Newsom said federal and state officials are doing all they can to vaccinate as many people as possible.

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“At the end of the day, there just aren’t enough Pfizer vaccines, there aren’t enough Moderna vaccines,” Newsom said.

Meanwhile, back in communities like Boyle Heights, there’s awareness that it will be an uphill climb to vaccinate in neighborhoods that have been long underserved, may be thin on health insurance and where skepticism or misinformation about the vaccine may be rampant.

“The site is a good thing,” said resident Isabel Marquez, who doesn’t live far away from the the Ramona Gardens mobile site. “But they worry if it’s safe for them,” she said of her neighbors.

Luckily, she said, she was able to get vaccinated on Saturday at the new federally supported mega site at Cal State L.A.

She said many have gotten sick in her community. And she worried that Sunday was quiet because many residents didn’t know about the site, didn’t trust it, or may have already been stricken with the virus.

Rep. Gomez was hopeful.

“There are still some people in the community who are still nervous about taking the vaccine. As more people take it … and they show that to their families they took and they are still healthy, and they are in even better shape, more people will take it.”

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this story.


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Source:  https://www.dailynews.com/2021/02/21/newsom-touts-new-southern-california-vaccine-pop-ups-as-counties-transition-to-blue-shield-network/



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