Sonoma County nervous about transferring vaccination management to Blue Shield

As they prepare for nonprofit insurer Blue Shield to take the lead in vaccine distribution in Sonoma County, health officials and local elected leaders were skeptical and concerned Wednesday that this move could be another state-led pandemic setback.

Recalling the COVID-19 vaccine debacle here last month at a Rohnert Park clinic operated by a state provider, county officials acknowledged they are concerned about losing control of the inoculation campaign and plan to maintain their network of clinics. vaccination instead.

Beginning March 7, Blue Shield, which California health officials hired last month to be the state’s vaccine manager, plans to use the county’s network of clinics, health centers and other partners for vaccines. But the insurer will purchase the weekly supply of vaccines and decide how many doses to administer to individual local vaccination sites. Under its state contract, Blue Shield will also work to ensure gun shots are fired in a racially equitable manner.

“We have a lot of pieces in place, a Plan B to ensure that if there’s a failure in your system, we have backups, because we’re doing it right now,” said Ken Tasseff, Sonoma County Vaccine Coordinator. . “We are not going to dismantle anything until we are sure that (Blue Shield) has done well.”

Blue Shield will also take control of the scheduling and tracking of coronavirus vaccine doses in the county. This week, the health insurance giant took on that role in 10 other California counties, mostly in the Central Valley.

State officials said the action aims to get residents vaccinated more efficiently, increase public transparency about where vaccine doses go, and ensure that vaccines reach the arms of people in communities disproportionately affected by COVID. -19.

County health officials and supervisors discussed the takeover of Blue Shield during a news conference. They expect the measure to increase weekly vaccine shipments for the county.

Blue Shield declined Wednesday to answer multiple questions from a Press Democrat reporter about the new vaccine distribution plan here. Erika Conner, senior spokesperson for Blue Shield, referred questions to the California Department of Public Health.

Under a state contract for which it will make no profits, Blue Shield runs a state vaccine distribution network that this week delivered about 1 million doses to residents. As California surpassed 50,000 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, becoming the first state to reach that sad milestone, the state is counting on Blue Shield to accelerate vaccines.

County Vaccine Leader Dr. Urmila Shende said members of the local public health staff, who have spent weeks troubleshooting issues in the county’s vaccine deployment, will do their best to ensure a smooth transition with Blue Shield . Still, he warned that there could be problems.

“Throughout this process of implementing the vaccine we have experienced that it is not easy,” said Shende. “So we are really going to work hard with the external administrator (Blue Shield) to make sure that all the things that we have implemented lead to the most successful implementation possible.”

Shende believes that the county will receive more vaccine doses through Blue Shield, as has been the case with some of the counties participating in the first wave of centralized distribution.

The county still does not have enough doses to meet the demand from residents. However, this week the county expanded vaccine eligibility to a group of more than 60,000 residents, including those 65 and older, in addition to workers in education, child care, food production, emergency services, grocery stores and restaurants. .

The county began in December to inoculate nursing home and health care residents and staff, moving residents 75 and older, then 70-74 before finally aligning itself with what the status in mid-January: start getting vaccination appointments for seniors 65 and older.

Partnerships with local community health clinics and medical providers have led to a strong network of county vaccination clinics that could inoculate many more people than the 7,680 doses the county received this week, Shende said.

“If we had a sufficient supply of vaccines, we could do at least six times as much, if not more,” he said. “So we’ve built capacity right now in the last five to six weeks.”

County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said she is concerned that a “one size fits all” approach to statewide vaccine distribution could create problems, particularly in a state with 58 counties of varying sizes and diverse demographics. .

Supervisor Chris Coursey expressed lack of confidence in Blue Shield’s online immunization registration system. The county has prior experience with the danger of the online vaccine appointment system that state provider OptumServe used for a Rohnert Park clinic last month. With the wrong age eligibility then, the county had to cancel thousands of appointments immediately.

Lynda Hopkins, president of the county supervisors, said she was unhappy with the loss of local control over COVID-19 vaccines, after all the work done to ensure that the county’s most vulnerable residents are vaccinated first.

“We’re going to move from this constellation approach, where we work with trusted community partners who have deep relationships with the communities they serve, to a much more centralized, command-and-control approach that is really designed to get that vaccine. Get out the door as quickly as possible, ”Hopkins said.

You can contact the staff writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or [email protected] On Twitter @pressreno.

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