California earmarks 40% vaccines for poorest as inequality concern grows

LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) — California will set aside nearly half of its next batch of vaccines for people living in its most disadvantaged zip codes, as concern grows over a yawning gap in the pandemic’s impact on rich and poor, Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The policy comes as data shows low-income and minority groups in the nation’s most populous state are far more severely hit by Covid-19, and also substantially less likely to have received vaccinations.

“Households earning over $120,000 have twice the access to vaccines than those communities that have been disproportionately impacted,” said Newsom.

“That is what we have to reconcile. We have to own up to that.”

The state — originally praised for its handling of Covid-19 last year — has been criticized for its slow and overly complicated rollout of the vaccine, even as reports have emerged of wealthy and often white Californians finding ways to skip the line.

A bid to recall Newsom fueled by the vaccine rollout is reportedly nearing the threshold required for a vote.

Californians living in the state’s poorest quarter of regions — measured by health outcomes — have so far received just 1.6 million vaccines doses, out of 10 million administered across a state of 40 million people.

Under the policy, those underserved regions will get 40 percent of the next round of vaccines, as authorities try to get more inoculations to minority groups — especially Latinos, who account for more than half of California’s positive cases.

“That disproportionately has fallen on the Latino community in the state of California — African-American community, yes, but disproportionately even more so on the Latino community in California,” said Newsom, a Democrat.

Many of these vulnerable populations work in jobs considered essential, exposed to the public at supermarket checkouts or rubbing shoulders with dozens of colleagues in crowded conditions at warehouses, factories or on farms.

They frequently commute to work by public transport and often live in overcrowded housing, where distance and isolation among family members is nearly impossible.

The measure comes as pressure again ramps up on Newsom to reopen the state, as an enormous winter spike in Covid-19 infections has rapidly declined to pre-Thanksgiving levels, and positivity rates have fallen.

More than 53,000 Californians have died due to coronavirus.

© Agence France-Presse