Health insurance organization Blue Shield of California is taking over the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution process with the intent on ramping up the vaccine administration to three million doses per week by the beginning of March and four million per week by the end of April.
The state revealed the $15 million contract with Blue Shield on Monday. Blue Shield President and CEO Paul Markovich said in a statement that the health insurer will not make a profit off the deal.
“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,” Markovich said. “That’s what will enable us to ensure all Californians have access to the vaccines equitably, efficiently and as quickly as possible.
“We are taking on this effort because we also want to do all we can to help overcome this pandemic and it is our commitment to do that work at a cost without making a profit from the state.”
California will continue to determine the order in which people will be eligible to receive the vaccine.
Blue Shield will create an algorithm that will decide how vaccine doses will be allocated. A large part of the new vaccine network will be based on “equity.”
Under the contract, Blue Shield will deliver a certain percentage of the doses to “under-resourced or disproportionately impacted populations.”
An example given in the contract is that 60 percent of the doses administered in March will be delivered to the disproportionately impacted populations.
Blue Shield expects to establish three geographical waves in its distribution rollout. The contract did not specify which areas of the state will be included in each wave, but the Los Angeles Times reported that Central Valley counties will be in the first wave beginning on Feb. 21.
This shift to Blue Shield comes at a time when vaccine supply from the federal government is not meeting the demand that will be required to reach the health insurer’s goals.
California received about one million doses over the last week, well short of Blue Shield’s goal of administering three million doses per week.
In total, California has administered over 6.25 million doses out of a total 8.25 million doses received.
In Fresno County, health officials have maintained that supply has been the No. 1 issue with vaccine distribution.
Fresno County had been receiving 8,000 doses from the state nearly every week since distribution began. The last couple of weeks have been more fruitful, however. Last week Fresno County received 19,000 doses, and this week the county was expecting to receive 18,000.
County health officials have previously said that the county can administer close to 40,000 doses per week.
Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes backed the county’s distribution capabilities to The Times.
“This is a supply problem, not a logistics problem,” Mendes said. “Give us the doses, that’s all we are asking. We will get them in people’s arms.”
In addition to his work with the county, Mendes also serves as the vice chairman of the Urban Counties of California.
The organization sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom in early February regarding the contract with Blue Shield and asked why the state would shake up the distribution process this late in the game.
“Our chief concern is to ensure that we have sufficient vaccines to cover appointments at our large-scale vaccination sites,” the letter reads.
Ultimately, the organization told Newsom that the shift to Blue Shield could create confusion and disrupt the distribution systems that local governments have created.