Gov. Gavin Newsom’s belated State of the State address last week was fundamentally a self-administered pat on the back for handling the COVID-19 pandemic, refuting the “nay-sayers and dooms-dayers” who want him recalled.
Newsom’s cavalcade of accomplishments prominently featured California’s rollout of vaccinations against the deadly infection that began late last year.
“We were the first to launch mass-vaccination sites in partnership with FEMA, now a model for other states,” Newsom claimed. “Today, we have the most robust vaccination program in America. California now ranks sixth in the world for vaccine distribution, ahead of countries like Israel, Russia, Germany and France.”
“We’ve built a vaccine system where our only constraint now is manufactured supply,” Newsom said later, adding, “Every Californian will have convenient access to shots — including those who are home-bound and those who don’t have transportation or the internet.”
However, California’s actual experience with inoculating its 40 million residents has not been nearly as rosy as Newsom depicted it, and the program continues to experience organizational and managerial shortcomings.
A key indicator is the state’s lagging record in administering the vaccination doses it has been allocated, according to the California Center for Jobs and the Economy, the research arm of the California Roundtable.
The California Center, using data from the Centers for Disease Control, reported that through last week, California had used slightly over 70% of its supply, well under the national figure and ninth lowest among the 50 states.
Initially, Newsom had a priority plan for vaccines as they became available, worked out during months of consultation and drafting, but it was quickly abandoned as unworkable once the vaccines began arriving. Ever since, the criteria have changed almost daily, without any explanation of why.
Just this week, millions more Californians were added to the priority list. “Inundating a system already straining under the weight of limited supply, pervasive tech glitches, political infighting and general confusion,” as CalMatters blogger Emily Hoeven described it.
Supposedly the elderly and those with disabilities and severe health conditions were to be near the head of the line, but then Newsom set aside 10% of the vaccine supply for education workers to persuade them to reopen schools and another 40% for low-income communities where COVID-19 has hit the hardest. Last week, the state suddenly added transit workers, commercial airline employees, the homeless and those held in federal immigration centers.
On top of the state’s ever-changing priorities, Newsom decreed that health care giants Blue Shield and Kaiser would assume management of the state’s vaccine supplies, but local public health authorities, who had been managing vaccinations, balked at being compelled to deal with Blue Shield.
Meanwhile, the state’s effort at making vaccination appointments fairer and less stressful, called MyTurn, experienced glitches that rendered it almost useless.
Instead of the smoothly functioning vaccination system that Newsom touted in his State of the State address, it’s a confusing jumble that encourages line-cutting gamesmanship and breeds cynicism.
Recall backers likely will submit enough signatures of registered voters this week to force an election later this year and Newsom’s elaborately staged State of the State address and frantic schedule of public appearances are clearly a political campaign under the guise of official action.
Newsom now wants to reopen the state’s economy and the public schools as rapidly as possible to cool off recall fever and is using arbitrary vaccination markers to justify lifting restrictions. Last week, it was announced that with two million doses of vaccine administered in low-income communities, more counties could have their restrictive tiers eased up so that business and social activities could resume.
What began as a phased vaccination rollout based on science has become a purely political exercise.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.