Blue Shield of California
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January 29, 2021 - 3 min read

Blue Shield partners with the State to manage COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations is logistically complex. Together we rise to the challenge of an efficient and equitable vaccination plan.

As COVID-19 vaccine rollouts continue across the country, supplies have yet to meet demand. On Wednesday, January 27, Blue Shield of California President and CEO, Paul Markovich, affirmed our commitment to ensuring access to quality care for all Californians by supporting Governor Gavin Newsom’s strategy to efficiently and equitably manage vaccine administration in the fight against COVID-19.

“We are honored to play an important role in such a critical and noble effort to restore the health and safety of everyone across the state,” Markovich said.

Blue Shield’s leadership combined with the state task force will be able to maximize the speed at which vaccinations are made available across California – with a key focus on disparately affected communities.

Blue Shield is stepping into this role at a critical juncture, following new federal policy to accelerate the quantities of vaccines delivered to states. Since Pfizer-BioNTech was first given emergency use authorization last month, there has been tremendous anticipation for the vaccine rollout. There has also been understandable disappointment with the pace at which vaccines become available, the distribution of doses, and a distinct lack of clear information about the process.

This announcement followed one by California Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier in the week for a statewide standard of vaccine eligibility prioritizing residents 65 and older, healthcare workers, and first responders.

Supply chain concerns

The State of California is directly not given a supply of vaccine doses. The federal government ultimately oversees the process of ordering and distributing vaccines through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccines are ordered through the CDC and doses received by providers come either from the CDC’s centralized distributor or directly from a vaccine manufacturer. The State’s role in the supply chain is to facilitate distribution and tracking of vaccine doses county by county, adding complexity to the process.

“The state will tell us each week how much vaccine we’re going to get, and then we’re responsible to divvy that out and tell the state how much to give each of our providers,” said Dr. Olivia Kasirye of the Sacramento County Health Department.

Ensuring equitable distribution

California is continuing to use their original, three-tiered framework for vaccinating the state. To ensure the vaccine is distributed equitably, the State is using a data-based tool called a Categorized Priority System (CPS) to calculate a county’s vaccine allocation based on prioritizing those who are most at-risk. One metric factored into the CPS is a county’s score on a Healthy Places Index (HPI). The HPI uses a variety of socio-economic factors to determine where a zip codes ranks on a scale of most advantaged to least advantaged in the state. Data shows that many residents in some of the least advantaged zip codes are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection.

Currently, 20% of total vaccine supply is being allocated to counties based on the presence of low HPI zip codes. If a county has more zip codes with low HPI ratings, the county will receive more doses.

Looking ahead

Together we rise – in partnership with the State of California, like-minded businesses, health care providers, and community organizations – to meet the challenges presented by COIVD-19. Despite the complexity of the vaccination roll-out plan, the goal is to vaccinate most Californians by the summer 2021.

Gov. Newsom’s engagement with Blue Shield and other market leaders is an important step. So is the clear prioritization of vaccination administration.

"We believe the cohort 65 and over need to be prioritized, alongside healthcare workers, first responders, food and agriculture workers, school staff and teachers… and do what we can to vaccinate the vaccinators [and] our first responders,” said Gov. Newsom in a recent video update. The Governor also introduced the planned transition to an age-based eligibility system after the priority groups are vaccinated, a change that is expected to take effect in mid-February.

California recently launched, a pilot site with a questionnaire to determine an individual’s vaccine eligibility in their area. This tool will eventually extend to all counties and is intended to also include scheduling.

More details about Blue Shield’s role in California’s vaccination efforts will be released in the coming days. The announcement is available here, and the story was also covered by the LA Times yesterday.

Blue Shield continues to provide updates through our COVID-19 Resources site for brokers and employers, including information on vaccines and testing.

Visit our News Center for the latest information on COVID-19 or subscribe to have articles delivered straight to your inbox.

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