One of the key aspects health officials tried to rely on to ensure the coronavirus vaccine reaches people in communities hardest hit by the virus involved using dozens of federally qualified health clinics specially tailored to provide care in underserved areas.
There was just one problem.
The vaccines being administered at those health clinics were not earmarked in any way for patients who use the clinic or for other people in the nearby community. Instead, many of those vaccination appointments have been snatched up by others, often driving from miles away for coveted doses.
That scenario was just one of the things Los Angeles County health officials and the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 9, vowed to fix as data recently revealed the disproportionate administration of the virus by race.
“There should be an ability for the neighborhood sites to prioritize vaccinating their patients and their neighbors because these are the communities where people have less ability to travel,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the board on Tuesday. “If we don’t have a system that understands that reality we are really doing a disservice.”
Ferrer said she was assured by officials at Blue Shield of California that when the new state booking system rolls out soon it will include a portal so residents can receive a vaccine at their local clinic. Currently, the county’s network of 365 vaccination sites and growing is a bit of a cluster with anyone in the eligible categories capable of obtaining a vaccine at any site within the county.
Currently eligible are health care workers, residents at long term care facilities and anyone 65 years of age and older.
“Although the county has launched five mega pods, we’re still not able to administer vaccines in every neighborhood,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Hilda Solis (District 1). “Until we can offer vaccines in each community there is still going to be inequities.”
When comparing population statistics and the percent of vaccines that have been administered by race, officials said it was clear they were falling short on upholding equity. But the data is not exactly clear because it contains a much larger percentage of individuals that identified as mixed-race compared to general population figures.
Out of slightly more than 1 million vaccines administered, Blacks have received 3.5% of doses although they represent roughly 9% of L.A. County’s population. Latinos received 24.9%, although they represent close to half of the population. Meanwhile, Whites have received 25.4% and account for 70% of the population, and Asians received 17.9% while they account for 15% of the population. Multi-raced individuals received 17.4% whereas the Census accounts for 3.4% that identify this way.
Officials have already opened more vaccination sites in communities hardest hit. In recent days, they opened 35 additional sites in South Central L.A. and 14 new sites in East L.A.
As one way to address inequities, the five county supervisors Tuesday unanimously passed a motion proposed by Solis to “re-route” county transit services to provide homebound seniors and residents with access to vaccine mega sites.
Under the motion, the county would establish partnerships among municipal and regional transit operators to “ensure transportation is not a barrier to vaccine access for county residents.”County staff will now come back with a report within two weeks on how such re-routing would work.
Officials will also consider an offer from Uber to provide 20,000 free rides and 40,000 ride discounts for people travelling to receive a coronavirus vaccine.
In other cases, volunteers will hit the streets going door to door spreading information about the vaccine and where to get it.
It’s not only a matter of equity but in my mind a matter of ethics. It’s the right thing to do,” Solis said. “We will never get out of this pandemic unless we vaccinate as many people as possible.”
Ryan Carter of SCNG contributed to this report.