Lawmakers urge California give more vaccine priority to Bay Area's most vulnerable

Lawmakers and community organizations on Monday are requesting that more vaccine priority be given to the Bay Area and that California "urgently address disparities" in the state's current vaccine prioritization plan.

Even though the Bay Area accounts for 20% of the population of California, only 2% of Bay Area residents fall under the affected ZIP codes determined through this newly established vaccine metric, according to reporting in the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Only 10 ZIP codes in the Bay Area are prioritized through this formula, while 79 ZIP codes in Los Angeles County and 39 ZIP codes in San Bernardino County have been identified.

Most prioritized ZIP codes fall in Southern California while most counties in the Bay Area - Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Sonoma and Napa – have no ZIP codes prioritized through this formula and only 4% of San Francisco residents, 3% of Contra Costa County residents and 7% of Alameda County residents fall in those ZIP codes that are prioritized, the Chronicle analysis found. 

"This is a matter of life and death for our community," state Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) said in a statement. "This plan needs to be restructured and recalibrated immediately to ensure a fair and equitable vaccine rollout that truly protects our most vulnerable."

Cortese and his colleagues are urging California to address a "critical disparity and inequity" in the latest state vaccine distribution plan unveiled earlier this month, which they say leaves behind many underserved communities and vulnerable individuals in the Bay Area that have been hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the need for vaccines in her community is clear. "In some of our communities we've had as high a rate as 15% in a single Census tract, testing positive for Covid-19 and on any metric you use, Santa Clara county has been profoundly hit by COVID-19," said Supervisor Chavez.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that plan, allocating 40% of vaccine to 8 million people that he said fall into the lowest quartile of the "Healthy Places Index." 

However, the formula excludes ZIP codes in the Bay Area that have infection rates that are nearly twice that of the state’s overall rate.

Peer-reviewed research demonstrates that wealthier households in California are getting vaccinated at nearly twice the rate of lower-income households that are at a higher risk of becoming infected.

While targeting low-income households for vaccine priority is a needed approach to ensure equity, the lawmakers said that the Healthy Places Index was developed from Census tract data, not ZIP codes, and, "thus, the current approach, unfortunately, exacerbates geographic and other inequities rather than addressing them."

Critics have said they have an issue with the way the state measures low income areas and that it doesn't match the real world conditions around the Bay Area, where the very wealthy and the very poor can live on the same block.

Jon Jacobo from the San Francisco Latino Task Force said many communities were left out because the wealthy live right next door to those who are struggling. "Of course the Mission, which has suffered hyper gentrification, is going to have wealthier residents," said Jacobo. "But, we also have higher levels of infection happening right here in the neighborhood. This is also applicable to the Bayview, a historically black neighborhood."

Jacobo said he's hearing those in need will likely get the vaccine doses they deserve. "The one thing I'm hopeful for, I'm hearing that some of our state legislators and especially here locally, our local politicians are making an issue of it," said Jacobo.

State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) agrees that in the rush to roll out vaccine some lower income residents were left out because of the vast income differences within neighborhoods around the Bay Area.

"Anytime you do a statewide formula you're going to have some unintended consequences that you need to work to address, and that's what's happening here," said Sen. Weiner.

 Both Senator Wiener and Supervisor Chavez said there has been ongoing discussions with the governor's office and both say they're confident the equity issue will be resolved. "One thing that was clear from the governor’s office today is that they are really looking to assist us in resolving this issue," said Supervisor Chavez.

"We're working closely with the governor’s office to make sure that the Bay Area's most impacted communities also benefit from this plan, and I'm very optimistic we're going to get there" said Sen. Wiener.

State leaders are hoping to have a clearer plan for equitable vaccine distribution by the end of this week.