Vaccine planning beset by delays in Blue Shield rollout, wide sharing of equity program access codes

Patients enter Levi’s Stadium to receive Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 9 2021 in Santa Clara. The 49ers arena opened on Tuesday as a vaccine distribution site for Santa Clara County residents 65 and older and is expected to inoculate up to 15,000 people per day once supplies become available. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

This week, 10 counties in the inland portions of Central and Southern California were slated to transition to the new vaccine distribution system helmed by Blue Shield — but limited communication, technical challenges and lack of transparency have resulted in delays for at least three counties. Meanwhile, the state is overhauling its equity program after young, healthy and wealthy residents in Los Angeles and San Francisco obtained vaccine access codes intended for vulnerable Californians.

It’s just the latest setback for the Golden State, which enlisted Blue Shield to speed up and streamline a slow and chaotic rollout. But although San Joaquin County was among those set to finish onboarding to the Blue Shield system by Monday, “nothing’s really transitioned at this point in our county,” Greg Diederich, the director of the San Joaquin County Health Care Services Agency, told me Wednesday. Diederich added that the county “didn’t get a lot of direct dialogue” with Blue Shield “until Thursday last week,” when the insurance giant passed along model contracts for vaccine providers.

  • Diederich: “Nobody to my knowledge has really signed that contract.”

Fresno County is also still in the process of “discussing that transition plan,” with a new projected launch date of March 1, Joe Prado, the county’s health division manager, said at a Tuesday press conference. Stanislaus County on Monday said it still hadn’t received any guidance from Blue Shield.

The state Department of Public Health declined to specify which counties, if any, had successfully transitioned to the new system, saying more information would be provided later this week. Blue Shield referred all questions back to the Department of Public Health.

MyTurn, the state’s one-stop-shop for vaccine registration and appointments, appears to be a principal source of glitches and delays. Although the state told counties they would likely be able to import registrations from county websites into MyTurn, it turns out they can’t — forcing some residents to manually reregister with the state, Diederich said.

  • Diederich: “The counties … have the local partners, the local considerations, we’re ready to run. But unfortunately, you know, the state went with the (third-party administrator) concept. … If the decision was made today, it’s definitely the wrong decision.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,455,361 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 49,877 deaths (+0.6% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

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