California joins feds in bid to speed coronavirus vaccines
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California joined with the federal government to open two new mass vaccination centers as test areas for new President Joseph Biden’s effort to create 100 such sites nationwide in 100 days, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
The sites at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum and California State University, Los Angeles, will be jointly run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
The move comes as California’s deadliest pandemic surge eases but the state struggles with vaccine shortages and bureaucratic headaches in a race to vaccinate its most vulnerable people.
The new sites are expected to open Feb. 16 for eligible people who can sign up now to be notified and will eventually schedule vaccine appointments using the state’s online MyTurn system. Both sites will be able to administer up to 5,000 doses a day, said state emergency services spokesman Brian Ferguson.
Newsom promoted the new sites as part of a larger effort to target minorities, the poor and others who might be neglected. Each will have two mobile vaccination clinics that can go to different locations to help inoculate people.
“The reason this site was chosen was the framework of making sure that communities that are often left behind are not left behind — they’re prioritized in terms of the administration of these vaccines,” Newsom said during a news conference with local officials at the Oakland stadium, home to Major League Baseball’s Athletics.
Both sites are in what Newsom’s administration called some of the nation’s most diverse and poor areas, home to many essential employees who have continued to work during the pandemic.
Newsom and local officials praised their fellow Democrat now in the White House for what the governor called “a different mindset” in addressing the pandemic than the Republican Trump administration.
Newsom has faced increasing criticism including from members of his own political party in what he acknowledged has been a slow and often confusing rollout of the available vaccines.
California is administering 1 million doses per week but still remains in the bottom half of U.S. states for administering and distributing doses per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“No one is satisfied with the pace of distribution of these vaccines,” Newsom said. “We have more work to do, but we have made demonstrable progress and we will continue to build on that.”
Officials announced last week that the state by mid-month will create a new centralized vaccine distribution system led by Blue Shield, though specifics of the program are still being developed.
Newsom said the big insurance company is a logical, experienced, California-based choice to coordinate the program, dismissing as “nonsense” any speculation that the choice had anything to do with political support he’s received from company officials.
The move came as California officials recalculate which groups should be next in line for shots amid limited supply.
The state has authorized health workers, teachers, food and agriculture employees, other first responders and people 65 and older to be inoculated. Newsom announced last week that the state would next move to an age-based system, outraging some who would move farther back in line.
On Wednesday, eight San Francisco Bay Area county health officers endorsed using scarce vaccines for those 65 and older.
“We need to be direct and honest with the public that, although we want to vaccinate everyone, right now we just don’t have enough vaccine to do so,” said Dr. Sara Cody, director public health for Santa Clara County. “Given limited supply of vaccine, we must prioritize vaccinating those at greatest risk of death or serious illness.”
Marin, Napa, Santa Cruz and Solano counties are focused on residents age 75 and older while Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara are prioritizing people 65 and older.
State officials meanwhile defended their decision to prioritize those age 65 and up alongside essential workers.
While those with underlying health conditions or disabilities are vulnerable, age remains the biggest factor in predicting those most likely to become critically ill or die, the co-chairmen of the governor’s scientific advisory panel told a larger committee representing community organizations.
Administration officials said they are forming yet another panel to hash out how to prioritize people with disabilities as more vaccines become available.
At the two new vaccination centers, FEMA will provide the resources and employees. Doses administered there will not reduce the host county’s allotment, Newsom said.
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis said the new Los Angeles site is “a welcome signal that we are ramping up at the federal, state and local level with the practical, boots-on-the-ground solutions.”
The state’s most-populous county already has five large county-run sites amid nearly 300 vaccination locations. Solis planned to ask the board next week to approve her plan to work with transit agencies and the county’s bus system to help residents get to the sites if they don’t have vehicles.
The vaccine ramp-up comes as infection rates and hospitalizations fall in California after a months-long coronavirus surge.
The state reported Wednesday the daily number of newly confirmed cases fell to 10,501, down from a high of more than 50,-000 in early January.
The seven-day positivity rate for those tested has dropped to 6.1%, less than half the 14.3% peak on Jan. 7. Hospitalizations are down nearly 30% and intensive care cases down 21.5% in the last two weeks.
“Everything that should be down is down,” Newsom said, while warning that new virus mutations bear close monitoring.
Associated Press writers John Antczak in Los Angeles and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this report.