California clinics: More vaccines going to rich than at-risk

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Edward Muro gets a shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at Families Together of Orange County Community Health Center, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Tustin, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

SAN FRANCISCO – Teresa Parada is exactly the kind of person equity-minded California officials say they want to vaccinate: She's a retired factory worker who speaks little English and lives in a hard-hit part of Los Angeles County.

But Parada, 70, has waited weeks while others her age flock to Dodger Stadium or get the coronavirus shot through large hospital networks. The place where she normally gets medical care, AltaMed, is just now receiving enough supply to vaccinate her later this month.

Parada said TV reports show people lining up to get shots, but “I see only vaccines going to Anglos.”

“It’s rare that I see a Latino there for the vaccine. When will it be our turn?” she said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has repeatedly called equity his “North Star" for vaccinating a diverse state of nearly 40 million. He partnered with the federal government to set up mass vaccination sites in working-class neighborhoods in Oakland and Los Angeles. And it's a big part of why he tasked insurer Blue Shield with centralizing California's patchwork vaccine system, asking the hospital chain Kaiser Permanente to assist.

Yet officials at community health centers that serve as the safety net for the poor in the U.S., focused on health equity, say they are not receiving enough doses for their patients — the very at-risk residents the state needs to vaccinate.

In California, nearly 1,400 such centers offer free or low-cost services to about 7 million people, many in communities with a higher concentration of low-income families and few providers who take Medicaid, which is known in California as Medi-Cal. Many of their clients speak a language other than English, work long hours, lack transportation and want to go to the medical care professionals they trust.

Dr. Efrain Talamantes, chief operating officer for AltaMed Health Services, said it was disheartening to watch initial doses go elsewhere while his patients continued to test positive for the virus.