California taps Blue Shield to oversee an equitable vaccine distribution plan

Photo by Karl Tapales/Getty Images

Blue Shield of California has signed a contract with the state of California to develop a vaccine allocation algorithm with a focus on equitable and efficient distribution.

The agreement makes Blue Shield the state’s Third Party Administrator with the goal of distributing 3 million doses per week by March 1, and 4 million doses per week by the end of April.

Under the terms of the contract, the allocation algorithm will also have a focus on equitable distribution. It has a goal for March to administer 60% of doses to disproportionately impacted populations as defined by the state.

Blue Shield anticipates that its vaccine network will be established in three geographical waves and will be state-wide by the final wave, according to the contract. It will update the algorithm as needed based on vaccine availability, COVID-19 incidence, and feedback from stakeholders.

The health plan said it will only charge California for actual expenses related to the effort up to $15 million.

WHY THIS MATTERS

California and its Governor Gavin Newsom have received backlash for the state’s slower-than-expected vaccination distribution so far.

As of February 15, California had administered more than 6.2 million doses of the vaccine, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. That’s an average of about 1 million shots per week, Newsom said on Twitter.

A majority of the state’s voters aren’t pleased with these results and only 22% offered a positive rating of California’s vaccine distribution to date, according to a survey from the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

Some state officials believe the deal with Blue Shield misses the mark, saying that the issue is vaccine supply, not the logistics of how to distribute it, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Ventura County officials have asked to be excluded from the Blue Shield agreement, saying that it could get in the way of the county’s already established distribution plan, according to the report.

California also recently tapped Kaiser Permanente to help ramp up vaccine distribution. The two parties will work together to establish two new vaccination sites and “other efforts to vaccinate hard-to-reach and disproportionately impacted populations,” according to the letter of intent.

THE LARGER TREND

Blue Shield was initially brought on to California’s vaccine task force at the end of January.

Before vaccines were available, the health plan helped increase the rate of COVID-19 testing in the state. With its help, California increased daily testing from 2,000 per day to more than 100,000 per day.

California has had the most COVID-19 cases compared to other states, with more than 3.4 million cases to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the entire country, however, cases are on the decline. There were about 56,000 new cases reported by the CDC on February 15, a sharp decline from January 8, when new cases reached a peak of 314,000.

Conversely, vaccine administration is on the rise in the U.S. More than 55.2 million doses have been given out to date.

ON THE RECORD

“We recognize it’s a daunting challenge to overcome this pandemic, however with all of us doing our part, together we can beat this virus and save lives,” said Paul Markovich, Blue Shield of California’s president and CEO. “At Blue Shield of California, our goal is to work closely with each county, their public health leaders, and state officials to build a vaccine network that is only constrained by the number of vaccines we receive. That’s what will enable us to ensure all Californians have access to the vaccines equitably, efficiently and as quickly as possible.”

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org

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