Within hours of delivery Sunday night, the first vaccines to arrive in California were administered into the arms of health care workers Monday.
California is set to receive over 300,000 COVID-19 vaccines in December, signaling what appears to be the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. That good news also raises a dilemma — figuring out who’s at the front of the line to receive the vaccine.
The state appointed a Community Vaccine Advisory Committee to determine which industries and communities should be prioritized. The committee is made of representatives from dozens of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, California Teachers Association and Disability Rights California. Meetings are held virtually and open to the public.
Orville Thomas is with the California Immigrant Policy Center and serves on the vaccine advisory committee. He spoke with CapRadio’s Scott Rodd to share details on how the state is striving for equitable distribution of the vaccine and handling lobbying from various industries to have their workers vaccinated first.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s the focus of your advisory committee at the moment?
The state owes it to those essential workers on the frontlines to have a plan in place. There is going to be a priority for medical workers and those in long-term care facilities, as well as long-term care facility residents. But after that: How do we make sure that we are distributing these vaccines in an equitable way?
After health care workers and folks in long-term care facilities, who’s next on the list?
We're having that conversation right now. Everything is pretty dynamic, but we're talking about food and ag workers. It’s really hard if you’re working in rows of crops to keep a safe distance. And they are at the lower end of having access to health care. They might have more underlying health conditions. They might be older. Plus, the Latino population has a disproportionate amount of the illness and deaths compared to their population in the state. All of these things play a part in us formulating a tiered system for the phases of distribution.
Industries across the board are pushing to have their workers leapfrog to the front of the line. That includes big name companies like Uber and the meat processor Perdue Farms, as well as smaller industry groups representing photographers and even zoo workers. Are these efforts having any sway as the state figures out its distribution plan?
I get it that companies want to make sure their employees or their industry get to the front of the line. The virus has killed so many people. It's disrupted so many lives. It's upended our industries. This advisory committee takes all of these things into consideration. But, if you're just a Californian that's considering, “Am I going to be pushed towards the back of receiving a vaccination?” The answer is no.
What insight can you give to the average Californian wondering when they’ll receive a vaccine?
Californians should understand that everyone who wants to get a vaccination will be able to get a vaccination — probably within the next year, probably earlier than that. And I think it does allow a lot of the population to think about something like privilege when it comes to the work and health space. You know, if you are able to work remotely versus someone that has to go in and work in person, we have to make sure that those at most risk are the first ones that get the vaccine.
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