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COVID Vaccine: California Assumes Greater Control Of Vaccine Distribution

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) – California officials on Tuesday announced a number of changes to the COVID-19 vaccine delivery system giving the state more control in order to "expedite vaccine administration."

The changes come after state officials received intense criticism over the slow and scattered vaccine rollout by counties. According to a release issued Tuesday, the changes learned during the recent "10-Day Vaccine Challenge" will "focus each sector of the health care system on their core competencies."

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The release said the vaccine distribution and operations effort will be led by Secretary of the Government Operations Agency Yolanda Richardson in conjunction with Secretary of Health and Human Services and head of the California Department of Public Health Dr. Mark Ghaly.

"While vaccines remain extremely limited, the goal is to build a system to equitably and efficiently administer vaccines when supply increases," the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced it would be boosting the weekly supply of COVID-19 vaccines to states and territories by 16% next week. It also plans to give governors more advance notice on forthcoming allocations of the shots, according to multiple state officials briefed by the White House.

Governor Gavin Newsom's administration has been taken to task over issues with the COVID vaccine's distribution in California as health officials in many Bay Area counties raised alarms over shortages.

Last week, the Bloomberg COVID vaccine tracker showed California was last in percentage of vaccines administered, with only 37% of the vaccines distributed being injected. While California has administered more than 1.6 million vaccines -- the most of all states -- it has received about 4.4 million doses, according to the tracker.

"Our state and county public health leaders have done the important groundwork to get California's vaccination plan up and running and we are grateful to them and will continue to partner with them," Newsom said in the release announcing the changes. "We have learned that to accelerate pace we need to dial up the scale of our efforts to ensure vaccine supply goes into arms as quickly as it arrives in the state. This collaboration between Secretaries Ghaly and Richardson continues our approach to lead with public health and add Secretary Richardson's expertise in operations and with the health care delivery system which will be pivotal in implementing these improvements to get all Californians vaccinated safely and swiftly, with equity as our North Star."

The release said the state plans to implement major three changes based on the lessons learned from the 10-Day Vaccine Challenge: simplifying eligibility, standardizing vaccine information and data and addressing the available supply by administering what is available and seeking additional supplies.

"I've always said I want to be part of a state team where we're the fastest learners about COVID," said Ghaly during his Tuesday press conference. "COVID is like an opponent we've never seen before; we don't have game film about what it's going to do. We need to learn and learn quickly and adapt those learnings into our real operations."

Ghaly said that during the 10-day challenge, the state tripled its administration of vaccines, going from roughly 40,000 vaccinations on a weekday to over 125,000 per day.

Newsom addressed part of the efforts to simplify vaccine eligibility when he spoke Monday about the forthcoming launch of the My Turn website in partnership with Salesforce and Skedulo. Having been piloted in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, the site allows individuals to register for a notification when they are eligible to receive the vaccine. Scheduling appointments is expected to be available in February.

State officials said that the changes "will build on the work of counties and health providers to coordinate vaccine delivery statewide, with an eye toward ensuring safety, equity and the fastest possible delivery of vaccine."

The state plans to "build a statewide vaccine administration network to speed the equitable delivery of current supply to eligible Californians," using a third party administrator to allocate vaccines directly to providers, maximizing distribution efficiency.

Richardson also appeared on Tuesday, saying she was honored to be part of the state's effort after being introduced by Dr. Ghaly.

"My job is to focus on the how; how do we expand our efforts statewide with our local health partners and the broader health system? I want to make sure that we can scale up so that when more vaccine is available, Californians can access that infrastructure. But also how do we optimize our supply that we have now?" said Richardson.

She noted that the 10-day challenge gave state officials a chance to find out what worked and what areas needed improvement.

"Californians were understandably confused by mixed messages, variability of eligibility across the state -- 'When is it my turn? Who's going next?" -- So yesterday, the governor announced a statewide eligibility network that will make it easier for Californians to understand who is eligible to make an appointment to get vaccinated."

Richardson said that by tapping into the expertise of a third-party administrator, the state would be able to increase the efficiency and visibility of vaccine distribution on the ground.

"As the supply grows, we're going to double down on expanded fixed and mobile sites, again ensuring that all Californians have access to that infrastructure," said Richardson. "We want to make sure that nothing slows down the administration of the vaccine other than the pace in which the vaccine arrives in the state."

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