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Essential California: The case of the misused vaccine access codes

A screenshot of page shown on the state's My Turn vaccine scheduling website after a working access code was entered.
(Myturn.ca.gov)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday. Feb. 23, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The issue of equity has loomed large over California’s vaccine rollout, with Gov. Gavin Newsom often speaking about the importance of administering vaccines “through an equity lens.” But stark inequities have still emerged in vaccine administration in the state, with white and Asian people in affluent areas being inoculated at higher rates than Black and Latino people in poorer areas.

Under a new program intended to improve COVID-19 vaccine availability for people in hard-hit communities of color, the state has been setting aside blocks of appointments at two new mass vaccination sites. Special access codes for those appointments are being given to local organizations in Black and Latino communities, with the organizations expected to distribute the codes to community members. The codes are intended for use by people living in the most affected communities who are vaccine-eligible but might otherwise struggle to get an appointment.

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In theory, it’s a great idea — exactly the kind of thing we should be doing to get vaccines in the arms of people who need them most, with the help of trusted community partners on the ground. Particularly because one of the biggest barriers to vaccinations has been the appointment registration process, as the chief science officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recently told my colleagues.

But as has been the case throughout the vaccine rollout, wherever there is a slight opening, the resourced and tech savvy find their way in.

Despite being intended for use in the most hard-hit communities, these vaccine appointment access codes have circulated widely among the wealthier, work-from-home set in Los Angeles. In a new story, I look at how the codes have strayed far from their intended recipients, spreading like wildfire in more affluent social and professional networks. In at least a few cases, the codes have enabled people to get vaccinated who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible and don’t live in the intended communities.

[Read the story: “Vaccine access codes for Black, Latino communities improperly used in affluent L.A. areas” in the Los Angeles Times]

Those circulating the codes did not seem to be aware that they were intended for hard-hit communities. In several cases, people thought they had stumbled upon a pilot program that was open to all. (The stated purpose of the access codes is not conveyed anywhere on the state’s vaccine scheduling website, nor does the site say the codes are intended only to be used by certain groups.)

By Monday evening, the codes had spread so quickly through certain social networks that one woman in her 40s who lives near downtown Los Angeles told The Times that she had been sent three codes from different people over the last few days.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

California’s rocky COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been dogged by poor communication and forecasting. California is failing to provide crucial information about COVID-19 vaccine supply levels to local officials, complicating efforts to schedule appointments and contributing to temporary closures of vaccination sites. Los Angeles Times

COVID-19 deaths in the United States surpassed 500,000 on Monday, the latest desolate way station in a vast landscape of loss. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. STORIES

Los Angeles schools will resume some services next week for a small percentage of students with special needs, Supt. Austin Beutner announced Monday. However, the measures fall far short of demands from parents who rallied to push for a broader reopening of schools. Los Angeles Times

A kid holding a sign that says "340 days since I've been in a classroom"
A third-grader at Warner Avenue Elementary School participates in a demonstration held Monday morning at the Federal Building to pressure the L.A. Unified School District to bring students back for in-person instruction.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The heart-wrenching story of “Team Molly.” While her daughter was hospitalized, an L.A. mother built more room for our national grief, one tweet at a time. New York Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

California legislators approved a $7.6-billion COVID-19 package, including $600 stimulus checks: Californians who qualify for a $600 state stimulus payment could see the money arrive as soon as a month after filing their tax returns under a $7.6-billion COVID-19 economic relief package approved Monday by the state Legislature. Crafted by Newsom and legislative leaders last week, the pandemic assistance plan also includes more than $2.1 billion in grants and fee waivers for small businesses. Those companies can soon apply for the grants, followed by an approval process that state officials estimate would take 45 days. Los Angeles Times

Californians who believe their unemployment benefit claims have been wrongly denied are facing significant delays in having their appeals addressed during the COVID-19 pandemic, waiting an average of 92 days for assistance — more than double the wait time before the pandemic put millions of residents out of work. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Women’s healthcare is waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic: Women across Southern California are reporting appointments delayed, exams canceled and screenings postponed because of the pandemic. Some are voluntarily opting out for fear of encountering the virus, while others have had their appointments canceled by healthcare providers rerouting resources to COVID-19 patients. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Cheaper rent in San Francisco? For some Oakland tenants, the city across the Bay is more affordable now. Los Angeles Times

An effort to recall three San Francisco school board members is afoot. The board has faced criticism from a number of fronts in recent months. San Francisco Chronicle

Black entrepreneurs in the Inland Empire have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis and are struggling to find a way forward. Riverside Press-Enterprise

A poem to start your Tuesday: “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton. Poets.org

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 79. San Diego: sunny, 72. San Francisco: partly sunny, 72. San Jose: sunny, 73. Fresno: partly sunny, 70. Sacramento: partly sunny, 73.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Candace Wade:

Seems Dockweiler Beach has been “tonied” up and is now claimed by Marina Del Rey. Ownership was a toss between Inglewood and El Segundo in the 1970s when my friends and I used to celebrate our youth ‘round a campfire on the beach. Rumor was that only the tough lifeguards patrolled Dockweiler. We were L.A. audacious, impervious to tales of harm, and Doc was the only beach that allowed fires. Our boombox blared Steely Dan rock, we roasted mystery-meat hotdogs, and my “bestie” and I disregarded our boyfriends to entertain each other — the way girls do.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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