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Vaccine Equity Metric Could Mean More Doses Locally

The Newsom Administration on Thursday announced that California has set aside 40 percent of vaccine doses for the hardest-hit communities and established a vaccine equity metric – which seeks to increase vaccinations in those communities – as a prelude to adjusting the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which governs the conditions under which California’s economy can safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California’s approach, according to information from the Governor’s Office, will continue to focus on masking and effective use of testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation. The state is also updating its recommendations about the most effective use of masks and when to consider double masking.

“With more vaccines online and administered, California is now in a position to take steps toward ending this pandemic by keeping our guard up and by vaccinating those Californians most at risk and most exposed,” said Governor Newsom in a news release posted by his office. “Vaccinating our most impacted communities, across our state, is the right thing to do and the fastest way to end this pandemic.”

The new program is expected to bring thousands of new doses to Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, and many other areas of Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties.

“This is a step in the right direction to close the unacceptable vaccine disparities for the Valley,” said Congressman Josh Harder in responding to the governor’s announcement. “I’ve called on the state week in and week out to provide Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties our fair share of vaccines, and today’s announcement is a promising next step. I’ll be watching closely to make sure this is rolled out quickly and clearly for our families.”

The state announced that 40 percent of vaccines will be reserved for communities in the lowest quartile according to the Healthy Places Index.

With three vaccines online and nearly 10 million doses administered statewide, vaccines have made a difference and overall disease trends have improved dramatically over the past six weeks. Case rates, test positivity, transmission rate, hospitalizations and ICU admissions are all on a steady decline since the winter surge.

This approach recognizes that the pandemic did not affect California communities equally. Forty percent of COVID cases and deaths have occurred in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index (HPI), which provides overall scores and data that predict life expectancy and compares community conditions that shape health across the state. The rate of infections for households making less than $40,000 per year (11.3) is more than double that of households with an income of $120,000 or more (5.2). At the same time, California’s wealthiest populations are being vaccinated at nearly twice the rate of the most vulnerable populations.

“Consistent with the disproportionate impact of the virus, the state is modifying the Blueprint for a Safer Economy to lead with opening activities when vaccines have been deployed to the hardest-hit communities,” the news release stated. “This modification will shift Blueprint tier thresholds to allow slightly higher case rates per 100,000 population once more inoculations have occurred in the communities suffering the most, allowing counties to move to less restrictive tiers.”

The initial goal of the vaccine equity metric is to deliver a minimum of 2 million doses to the hardest-hit quarter of the state as measured by the Healthy Places Index. The state has currently delivered 1.6 million doses to this quarter of the state. It is estimated that 2 million doses will be delivered in the vaccine equity quartile sometime in the next two weeks.

Once that threshold is reached, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy will be updated to allow for somewhat higher case rates in each tier, with an overall effect of allowing counties to loosen health restrictions at a somewhat accelerated, but still responsible, pace. The Blueprint will be updated again when 4 million doses have been administered in the vaccine equity quartile.