Everything went smoothly the other day at a mass vaccination center in the parking lot outside The Forum, the Inglewood arena kitty-corner from modernist SoFi Stadium, new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers football teams.
Lines of cars were long but manageable as they moved slowly and steadily. Nurses checked on the newly vaccinated recipients of first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech inoculations against the dreaded COVID-19 virus, found to be at least partly effective on every mutation yet discovered. Folks were free to go after a 15-minute waiting period to assure they were having no immediate serious side effects.
Staffers and nurses were competent, kind and friendly, some having come as temporary workers from points as distant as Louisiana and Ohio. The mix of cars inching forward ran from shiny new Range Rovers to ancient, oxidized Honda Civics.
But some things were dreadfully wrong behind this pleasant, well-managed scene where health care workers and folks over 65 got their shots in the arm.
The same flaws applied to other public and private vaccination sites in most California counties.
For one thing, there was dreadful inconsistency in the vaccine rollout. Some hospitals served everyone on their patient roster over 65. Others vaccinated only seniors who were also among their most immune-compromised patients. Shots were available at county sites to anyone over 65 who could book one, which proved no simple matter for many.
The inconsistency applied in almost all California counties as vague state guidelines left institutions to interpret local rules according to how much vaccine they had in their freezers.
Confusion piled atop even bigger problems. A principle inequity was that almost no walkup vaccination sites accepted people lacking previously arranged appointments. It took computer savvy and equipment to make those appointments. Nothing in the state’s series of vaccination plans aimed to fix that problem.
This left the entire enterprise looking like an exercise in economic discrimination and classism. There appeared to be only two ways to get appointments: go online and fight through ever-jammed websites where getting any response could seem miraculous, or go in person to a site and prevail on agreeable staffers to use their smartphones to get you an appointment.
Big advantages went to those with fast computers and strong Wi-Fi. Anyone lacking either commodity would need lots of help getting the vaccine unless they were on the patient roster of a system like Kaiser Permanente’s, where phone calls went to all patients over 75 as soon as Kaiser got permission to vaccinate them.
If you were a patient of other medical groups and did not check email or your personalized app from those systems, you would not learn appointments were available unless someone else told you.
Then there was the matter of getting there. For the immobile, stranded at home with caregivers who might not have cars, there was no one bringing vaccines regardless of how many COVID risk factors they might have.
The fact is that the poorer folks are the less likely they are to have reliable, strong Wi-Fi even when they have computers. They were not doing well in this system.
As for getting to one of the large, mass distribution sites generally located in the large parking lots of places like Disneyland, Dodger Stadium and CalExpo, getting there took a car. Yes, processing and injection generally took only 45 minutes after arrival at The Forum, but some folks squirmed as long as five hours in their rest-room-free vehicles at other big sites.
It added up to discrimination against the poor and uncybernetic, especially folks lacking both computers and smartphones.
“We know about the problems,” said Darrel Ng, senior advisor to the state’s COVID task force. “There will be more outreach. But we will need larger supplies of vaccines to make really big improvements.”
For now, this means poor planning has created discrimination by economic class, since the poor are far more likely than others to lack needed skills and equipment.
The bottom line: It should have been simple to get vaccinated, especially in California, whose governor has spent years preaching equal opportunity.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more of Mr. Elias’ columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.