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Kern could see more vaccine as part of state plan to target low-income communities

Kern County received its largest allotment yet of vaccine this week from the state, almost three times what it received previously, and the county could see another bump following an announcement Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom that 40 percent of the state's vaccine supply will now go to low-income, disadvantaged communities in an effort to speed up the reopening of the economy.

Kern received about 22,000 doses of vaccine this week compared to the typical 8,000 it had been receiving, said Public Health Director Brynn Carrigan. Those doses are divvied up among some 90 providers throughout the county and also supply the mass vaccination clinic at the Kern County Fairgrounds.

"We hope that increase continues so we see more and more vaccine coming into the community," Carrigan said. "Our providers are ready. We administer those doses within a week."

Carrigan attributed the increase to the opening of additional sectors of the workforce eligible for vaccination, including educators, farm workers and emergency services workers. The county's weekly allocation is based on the proportion of its population that falls in the categories eligible for the vaccine.

Because Kern and the Central Valley as a whole are home to many of the state's most disadvantaged communities, the county could possibly benefit from a new effort to target vaccine to those areas.

The decision, announced by Newsom on Thursday, is spurred by statewide data showing that wealthier Californians have been vaccinated at twice the rate of poorer ones, even though low-income households have been the most impacted by COVID-19.

Households making less than $40,000 per year have an infection rate more than double that of households with an income of $120,000 or more, Newsom said during a news briefing in Stockton.

"That’s what we have to reconcile," he said. 

The doses will be spread out among 400 ZIP codes with about 8 million people eligible for shots, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary. The areas are considered most vulnerable based on metrics such as household income, education level, housing status and access to transportation.

Kern County is home to 16 of those ZIP codes. They include almost all of east Bakersfield, Oildale, Arvin, Lamont, Weedpatch, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco, Delano, parts of the Kern River Valley and Mojave and Rosamond.

Once 2 million vaccine doses are given out in those neighborhoods, the state will make it easier for counties to move through tiers that dictate business and school reopenings.

About 1.6 million vaccine doses already have been given to people in those 400 ZIP codes, and the state will hit the 2 million-mark in the next week or two, officials said.

Right now, a county can move from the most restrictive purple tier to the lower red tier based on several metrics, including having seven or fewer new COVID cases per 100,000 people per day over a period of several weeks. That metric will change to 10 new cases or fewer. In the red tier, businesses such as restaurants and gyms can open for indoor services at limited capacity.

Once the state gives out 4 million doses in those neighborhoods, it will revise the metrics for getting into the even less restrictive orange and yellow tiers.

Kern County is benefiting from other streams of vaccine as well. 

Three state-run mobile clinics are now operating in Kern, in Wasco, Arvin and Rosamond, supplying additional doses beyond what the county as a whole is allocated from the state.

Hospital systems such as Dignity Health and Adventist Health receive their own direct allotment of vaccine.

Adventist Health is now using its supply to vaccinate the greater community through mobile clinics. Adventist Health Tehachapi has partnered with the county to provide a mobile vaccine unit in Mojave, California City and Boron, which have no other vaccine providers. 

"Trying to develop a plan for equity inclusion means we have to overcome barriers that traditionally keep people from getting access to health care," said Kiyoshi Tomono, community partnership executive for Adventist Health Kern County.

A major barrier for people in Kern's rural communities is transportation, Tomono said, which is why it's important to take vaccine into those communities rather than expecting people to travel elsewhere to get it.

Tim Calahan, spokesman for Clinica Sierra Vista, said its network of clinics serving low-income communities has also benefited from an additional source of vaccine, provided by the federal government. 

"Overall, vaccine supply is the best it’s been so far," Callahan said. 

As a result, the health care provider has been reaching out to patients who are high-risk and eligible for the vaccine, inviting them to get inoculated. 

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