Nearly two dozen state legislators representing the Bay Area sent a letter to state public health officials Friday urging them to recalibrate the state’s new formula for vaccinating the communities hit hardest by COVID-19.
The letter, co-signed by 20 members of the Assembly and state Senate and sent to state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and Government Operations Agency Secretary Yolanda Richardson, argues that the Bay Area is disproportionately unaddressed under the state’s plan to allocate 40 percent of vaccine doses for 446 of the state’s hardest-hit ZIP codes.
To determine which ZIP codes were most in need, the state is targeting those in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index, a data tool developed by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California that compares infection rates in census tracts across the state.
The legislators argued that while the Bay Area accounts for 20 percent of the state’s population, only 10 of the region’s ZIP codes are included in the vaccine allocation strategy, amounting to 2 percent of Bay Area residents.
In addition, the legislators argued the chosen ZIP codes are disproportionately in Southern California, with 79 in Los Angeles County and 39 in San Bernardino County.
Meanwhile, only San Francisco, Contra Costa and Alameda counties have ZIP codes that fall in the lowest HPI quartile, representing no more than 7 percent of residents in any of the three counties, according to the legislators.
“While targeting low-income households for vaccine priority is a needed approach to ensure equity, 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,” the legislators said in the letter.
The legislators argued that several more Bay Area communities should be prioritized because of their disproportionately higher infection rates, including the cities of East Palo Alto and Hayward, the Mission and Bayview districts in San Francisco, the unincorporated community of Marin City and portions of San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Concord and East San Jose.
“To ensure a fair, equitable, and culturally competent vaccine roll out, the state must identify and address structural and systemic inequalities in our public health systems and reconsider the current approach to the allocation of these precious and scarce life-saving vaccines,” the legislators said in the letter.
Ghaly said Friday in a media briefing that he has met multiple times this week with state legislators from the Bay Area and argued that while officials across the state still have much to do to get vaccine doses into people’s arms, the relative shift in vaccine allocation wrought by the ZIP code-based strategy would not reduce each county’s access to vaccine doses.
“The good news is, because of increases in supply and anticipated increases over the weeks to come, we believe counties will be at least getting as much as they received in the past,” he said.
The legislators that co-signed the letter include Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose; Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg; Sen, Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco; Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park; Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland; Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa; Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont; Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz; Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland; Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose; Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco; Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco; Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto; Assemblyman Alex Lee, D-San Jose; Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo; Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell; Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael; Assemblyman Timothy Grayson, D-Concord; and Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda.
The letter also includes the support of dozens of local officials and community organizations.