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California and Blue Shield Kick Off New Vaccine System

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

  • As of March 1, insurance firm Blue Shield of California is in charge of California's vaccine rollout

  • The new system rolls in phases over the next few weeks, and will be implemented in San Francisco by the end of March

  • Blue Shield is making recommendations on county allocations, as well as centralizing vaccine scheduling and reporting through the state's My Turn website

  • California is expected to receive 1.58 million vaccine doses this week, and supply could grow with the recent approval of a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine

California is on track to reach 3 million vaccines per week under an agreement that places Blue Shield in charge of the state’s vaccine rollout, officials said last week.

The agreement, which was revealed earlier this month, designated the insurance firm as the primary administrator of vaccine effort, which was plagued by early inefficiencies that ranked California near the bottom of U.S. states in vaccine delivery until recently. A total of 8,243,711 doses have been administered statewide as of March 1, including 225,089 in San Francisco.

Under the new system, which will roll out in California’s 58 counties in phases over the next few weeks, the California Department of Public Health will retain the final say in the number of vaccine allocations to counties. Blue Shield plans to make “recommendations” on the allotments, taking into the state’s equity goals, and has contracted with around 30 health providers across the state to ensure vaccine delivery and reporting. The new system is centered around California’s My Turn website, which will also serve as the main source of vaccine sign-ups statewide.

“The expectation is that in the month of March, we will transition the state from where it is today to completely being on this performance management system, using My Turn as the front door,” said Blue Shield CEO Paul Markovich on a recent call with reporters.

Under the contract, California will compensate Blue Shield up to $15 million to handle vaccine management through the end of this year. The insurer was selected because of its "robust network management expertise — its PPO network comprises 63,000+ physicians and 370-plus hospitals — and its experience as a health plan administrator for large employers, including large state accounts," according to an earlier statement from the state.

San Francisco will join the new Blue Shield system as part of the third wave, with the City expected to transition onto the new system by latter half of March. The goal of 3 million vaccines is dependent upon supply, said Yolanda Richardson, secretary of California’s Government Operations Agency, but she added that vaccine availability could increase sharply in the coming weeks. The state aims to administer 4 million shots per week by the end of April.

“We want to ensure there are no barriers...except for the pace with which vaccine supplies come to the state,” Richardson said.

The state’s vaccination goals encompass all shots administered through federally-managed facilities, such as the large site at the Oakland Coliseum, as well as at pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens that are offering shots through the state.

Among the goals of the Blue Shield program is to centralize vaccine management in a single system, as well as to ensure doses are offered in harder-hit or more remote populations, such as agricultural workers, that may not have access to large hospital systems. California is also reserving 10% of vaccines, or a minimum of 75,000 per week, for education and childcare workers starting this month.

Markovich said that as counties onboard into the Blue Shield system, the “ultimate hope is that there aren’t really any material changes in networks” that are already offering vaccines.

About 150,000 San Francisco residents, or roughly 20% of the population over 16, had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of March 1. Health care workers, people aged 65 and older, educators, food workers and other front-line workers are currently eligible to receive the vaccine.

"We are having conversations right now with Blue Shield," regarding the implementation in San Francisco, Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax told Public Comment this week. "I am certainly hopeful it will facilitate the flow of vaccines into San Francisco."

California is expected to receive 1.58 million vaccine doses this week, and supplies could grow soon with the recent approval of a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. At a recent hearing, drugmakers told Congress that they plan to ramp up manufacturing in the next few months.

Johnson & Johnson executive Richard Nettles said that the company will have 20 million doses manufactured by the end of March, and 100 million total during the first half of this year. Pfizer said that it will provide 13 million doses in the U.S. per week by mid-March, and Moderna plans to deliver roughly 11 million doses per week this month.


Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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