There was a wide sense of relief when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the other day that people aged 16 to 65 who suffer from certain severe underlying health conditions will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations starting on the Ides of March.
Starting Monday, if you’re in a wheelchair, on a walker, need oxygen, take immune-suppressing anti-rejection drugs to preserve an organ transplant, suffer from coronary artery disease or heart failure or deal with chronic kidney or lung disease — you can sign up to get either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines shot in your arm.
State health officials estimate this will add between 4 million and 6 million folks to the list of those eligible for shots — between 10% and 15% of all Californians. Overall, about half the populace will then be entitled to inoculations.
That’s good if supplies arrive.
But planning for this phase has been less than good. In fact, the start of this new phase of the vaccine rollout figures to be about as confused as the opening of Phase 2, when people over 65 joined health workers on the eligibility list.
Back then — only about six weeks ago — Gov. Newsom proclaimed those 65 and older could begin getting shots, and some grocery-based drug stores began internet signups.
But when those people turned up for appointments the next day, almost all were turned away. It developed there was no coordination between state and county health departments, so the drugstores could not give shots. This bait-and-switch affected tens of thousands of seniors.
It wasn’t fixed until days later, a few hours after this column reported what happened.
At the time there were no mass drive-through vaccination centers. There were few places to get vaccinated. The situation began to improve when some large testing sites quickly converted to giving shots.
The planning flaw for the newest large expansion of the eligibility pool is different, affecting verification rather than availability — especially with more large centers opening across California.
What’s undetermined now is how the soon-to-be-eligible will prove it. Most diabetics and folks with transplants don’t carry special IDs. Neither do heart attack veterans or kidney patients.
In helping Gov. Newsom announce the new eligibility categories, state Health Secretary Mark Ghaly said his agency would spend the next four weeks figuring out what kind of verification would be used to keep imposters from jumping the line and getting vaccines long before their turn, along with the freedom and feeling of health security this brings.
Like the confusion leading to the bait-and-switch of late January and the overloaded web-based sign-up sites that followed, this problem was easy to anticipate.
The real question is what health officials at both state and county levels were doing all fall, while awareness grew that coronavirus vaccines were about to arrive. Like most people, they knew that while some skeptics would refuse or delay getting vaccinated, the vast majority of Californians would eagerly accept the shots.
In fact, the jabs quickly became the hottest commodity going. Planning for the phase-in was an obvious need, even while officials were also occupied with imposing shutdowns, lockdowns, masking, distancing and other anti-pandemic measures.
But it did not happen, as was made clear by Dr. Ghaly’s admission that the state will develop seat-of-pants rules for folks to prove they are among the newly eligible. Will they need notes from their doctors, a la grammar school kids? Will their providers have to devise and hand out special cards to prove they have the conditions they claim?
None of this will be much of a problem for patients at some of the state’s largest healthcare systems, which did the requisite planning and possess the needed patient information. In the earlier phases, people regularly cared for by the UC Health system, the Providence hospital system and a few others were notified of their eligibility and invited via email to sign up for appointments. They’ll be OK in the new phase, too.
Millions more will not have this benefit. They have no idea what documents, if any, they’ll need once they can start vaccination signups.
It’s a plain dereliction of duty by Gov. Newsom’s administration, which knew this was coming but did not plan for it.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. 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
Thomas D. Elias