California seizes control over struggling vaccine delivery

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A health care worker gets ready to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to residents waiting in their cars in the early morning at Dodger Stadium, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, Los Angeles. California is revamping its vaccine delivery system to give the state more control over who gets the shots following intense criticism of a slow and scattered rollout by counties. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

LOS ANGELES – California is changing up the way it is delivering coronavirus vaccines, moving to a more centralized system that is expected to streamline appointment sign-up, notification, and eligibility for nearly 40 million residents who want to know when they can get a shot and where.

But the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom provided few details Tuesday. Counties, which have been leading the vaccine effort along with hospital and health care systems, were cautious about what to expect and said they need more information.

California has been criticized for vaccinating so few people even amid a national vaccine shortage that appears to be the main bottleneck, administering about 2.6 million of 4.7 million doses shipped. At the same time, confused residents are clamoring for more information and frustrated by eligibility rules that vary by county and by hospital system.

Newsom announced Tuesday that unnamed private third-party administrators will work with a new statewide secretary in charge of delivery to decide where the state’s supply of vaccine should go as federal supply ramps up to meet demand. A new sign-up tool will also allow the state to better track where vaccines have gone and who has been vaccinated, while also allowing residents to schedule an appointment when it's their turn.

The state will move to an age-based eligibility system that should make counties and hospital networks — which have been scheduling appointments and determining eligibility under broad state guidance — move at a more uniform clip. Currently, some counties and hospital systems are taking appointments for people 65 and older while others are limited to 75 and up.

Counties say they welcome change if that means more clarity and information, but also warned that local governments are the eyes on the ground that ensure vulnerable populations — including people without insurance or in hard-hit communities — are inoculated.

“We would see this change moving from a system that was not working, that was piecemeal in structure, to a new system that could work, if it is structured carefully and doesn’t risk those populations that we’re most trying to protect,” said Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Association of Counties.

But the news was not welcomed in the Silicon Valley county of Santa Clara, where county executive Dr. Jeff Smith said he has been “trying to decipher press releases and announcements" to figure out what will happen. The county is among those pleading for more vaccine, saying they are limited only by supply.