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Experts Grade California’s Vaccine Rollout

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“Equity and scale are possible for the wealthiest states in the nation,” said Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, chief executive of the Latino Community Foundation, who gave the state’s rollout a C+.

[See how the virus pummeled poorer communities in Los Angeles.]

As supply has increased, the conversation has shifted to focus on the best ways to ensure that a fair share of doses actually gets to residents of the hardest-hit communities, which are often, not coincidentally, among the hardest to reach — rather than being snapped up by wealthier, more tech savvy white Californians.

Dr. Kim Rhoads, a community engagement expert at the University of California, San Francisco, gave the rollout a C-, because even the state’s well-meaning equity efforts, like a loudly promoted move to direct 40 percent of new doses to ZIP codes considered most vulnerable, don’t address the nuanced concerns of Black and Latino Californians.

“Most things in health care and dare I say public health are geared toward the majority population,” she said. “They’re not intentionally designed to address the issues in Black and brown communities.”

For example, she said that the state’s approach — dropping a vaccination clinic in a poor ZIP code — left out Black Californians, who have a history of being displaced and dispersed across cities.

The state’s apparent preference for big contracts to manage the vaccine campaign is frustrating for Dr. Rhoads and colleagues with community organizations, who already have relationships with the people the state is trying so desperately to find.

“We don’t see this so-called hesitancy at our pop-up sites,” she said, referring to her work with Umoja Health, a group that has brought testing, resources and, more recently, vaccines to communities of color in Oakland during the pandemic. Dr. Rhoads said that’s because the sites not only eschew complicated online sign-up systems, but they also are staffed by people whom community members are more likely to know.

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