California Turns to Blue Shield to Oversee Covid-19 Vaccine Effort

Ken Towns receives a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from UC Davis Health on Jan. 12, 2021, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, Pool)

(CN) — California officials said Wednesday they will turn to a health care provider to fill the gaps in the state’s massive Covid-19 vaccination program after early efforts unevenly distributed the much-needed doses.

Blue Shield of California is in negotiations to help the state increase its vaccine rollout over the next month, according to an announcement on Wednesday by California health officials. Kaiser Permanente will also help in the efforts.

The latest figures show that more than 38,000 Californians have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic and the Golden State has recorded 3.1 million cases.

The massive undertaking to vaccinate the state’s roughly 40 million residents has been hampered by an uneven distribution. Blame for the stalled rollout falls on both a federal bottleneck that has limited the supply of vaccines coming into the state and gaps in the overall management on the state and local levels.

Governor Gavin Newsom said while state and county agencies have laid the groundwork for the vaccination program, the state will have to do more to meet demand.

“We have learned that to accelerate pace we need to dial up the scale of our efforts to ensure vaccine supply goes into arms as quickly as it arrives in the state,” Newsom said in a statement.

If the negotiations are successful, officials said the state will create an equitable and efficient vaccine provider network with Blue Shield of California. Kaiser Permanente will also help by sharing their expertise in the field, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“Blue Shield’s role will be to maximize the speed at which vaccinations are made available across California with a focus on disparately affected communities,” Blue Shield of California said in a statement.

Terms of the contract agreement, which is expected to be in place by mid-February, are still being finalized. Both are nonprofit health care groups based in Oakland.

Kaiser Permanente will be tasked with speeding up the distribution of the vaccine while Blue Shield of California will oversee the administration of the vaccine program. The state says the health care companies will “create, contract with and manage statewide vaccine administration networks to speed the equitable delivery of current supply to eligible Californians.”

That partnership will include public health agencies, pharmacies, public hospitals, clinics and mobile sites.

Over time, the network will expand as more vaccines become available and low-income neighborhoods and communities hit hardest by the virus — mainly where people of color live — will be a top priority.

Kaiser Permanente did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But both companies will have a tall order to fill once they join the state’s Covid-19 task force, as the data shows a tepid rollout of the vaccines.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that California has used 2.5 million out of the 5.4 million doses received.

Previously, the state relied on individual counties to oversee the distribution of vaccines.

In addition to the health care industry and residents over the age of 65, teachers, child care personnel, emergency services workers, food service employees and agricultural workers will soon be able to receive the vaccine in all counties.

The state’s response has been muddied by unclear messaging. Newsom announced that seniors would be eligible to receive the vaccine, but some parts of the state did not have enough vaccine doses to immunize health care workers.

On Tuesday, Yolanda Richardson, secretary of the Government Operations Agency, said the state’s goal is to use all available vaccines without the confusion that has gummed up the process.

“Californians were understandably confused by mixed messages,” Richardson acknowledged in a press conference.

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