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Today’s Headlines: California’s new vaccine strategy

A vial of COVID-19 vaccine and syringe
Daniel Zanales fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the South Central Family Health Center in Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

California is sending 40% of vaccine supplies to communities hit hardest by COVID-19, hoping to improve equity, halt the spread of the disease and hasten reopening. Will it work?

TOP STORIES

California’s New Vaccine Strategy

Months into a vaccine rollout that has been stymied by shortages and marred by persistent inequities, California is now going all in on a new strategy: flooding those communities hardest hit by COVID-19 with doses.

Officials say they hope the radical shift unveiled this week will not only slow the spread of the disease and tackle glaring inequities in who is receiving vaccines, but also speed up reopening of the economy by inoculating essential workers who are putting themselves at greater risk.

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Under the new approach, the state will now provide 40% of its available supplies to underserved areas, such as in South L.A., the Eastside, Santa Ana and the mostly Latino communities along the Interstate 10 corridor between Pomona and San Bernardino — places that have experienced a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s pain, yet still lag behind more affluent neighborhoods when it comes to getting vaccines.

Deciding who should get access to the COVID-19 vaccine has long been an ethical minefield, as the demand and need for doses has continually outstripped supply. But some experts say giving priority to residents in higher-risk communities — many of whom live in crowded or communal settings and have jobs requiring them to be on-site — makes sense right now.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— California officials are joining the growing call for the public to consider wearing two masks in public settings as extra protection against the coronavirus.

— California’s My Turn COVID-19 vaccination appointment system is riddled with flaws that are making it difficult for counties to reserve vaccine appointments for targeted populations, local officials say.

— Doctors really want to vaccinate Black people against COVID-19. But unequal access to shots and other government failures are fueling distrust.

For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

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COVID-19 Relief and a Marathon Debate

The weekly $400 federal unemployment supplements included in the pending economic aid package being considered by Congress are set to stop in August rather than being stretched through September, as some Senate Democrats had requested.

The chamber began formal consideration of the $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief measure after Democratic leaders agreed to reduce by several million people the pool of Americans eligible to receive $1,400 stimulus checks. The concession was intended to appease moderate Democrats worried that too many high-wage earners would receive the payments.

The Senate waited to release its version of the COVID relief package until it received assurance from the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation that the legislation complies with budget reconciliation rules, the process that Democrats are using to pass the bill quickly without needing Republican votes.

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Republicans largely oppose the measure as unneeded and wasteful. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) requested a full reading of the more than 600-page bill, a process that was expected to take more than 10 hours and substantially delay its passage. But Democrats remain confident they have enough votes to pass the package.

More Politics

— Democrats had hoped for a honeymoon spring. But bad behavior and grave unforced errors from Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — two of the party’s biggest outside-the-Beltway stars — are distracting from the Democrats’ work in Washington.

— Can President Biden actually get an infrastructure initiative done? His two previous predecessors did not.

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— Vice President Kamala Harris is emerging as a magnet for progressive pressure on the White House.

A Novel Approach

It sounds like a scene from the 1966 movie “Fantastic Voyage”: Doctors take a microscopic craft loaded with cancer-killing chemicals, inject it into the human body, and drive it to a malignant tumor to deliver its payload before making a quick exit.

Science fiction? Yes. Soon to be a clinical reality? Maybe.

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Bionaut Labs, a remote-control medical microrobot start-up, is developing a device the size of a breadcrumb that doctors can insert into the spine or skull and magnetically steer to a target to deliver a precise dose of drugs. The plan is to move to clinical trials by 2023.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this date in 1982, comedian John Belushi was found dead in Bungalow No. 3 of the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard.

“Police said they found ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ but they later led off in handcuffs a woman who drove up to the hotel in Belushi’s rented Mercedes,” The Times’ obituary the next day stated. “The woman was questioned for several hours at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division station. A police spokesman, Lt. Dan Cooke, said after her release that ‘detectives are now satisfied there was no criminal involvement on her part.’ ”

Later, it would emerge that Belushi, 33, had died of an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Catherine Evelyn Smith, who was accused of injecting drugs into Belushi, pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and three counts of furnishing and administering controlled substances. She was sentenced to three years in state prison, despite the judge’s conclusion that the comedian’s “drug-infested life led to his own death.” Smith was paroled after serving roughly half that sentence; she died in 2020 at 73.

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A body is wheeled out on a stretcher
The body of John Belushi is removed from the Chateau Marmont.
(Lennox McLendon / Associated Press)

YOUR WEEKEND

— Celebrate female-owned businesses with a new outfit, more plants or home décor from more than 80 L.A. shops.

— Make your own Girl Scout Cookies with this Thin Mints recipe. (And in case you missed it, see where columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson put them on his ranking.)

— The ranunculus are in bloom and the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch are open once again for a nine-week spring season after taking 2020 off.

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— A few unusual ways to experience nature in Southern California.

CALIFORNIA

Yesenia Magali Melendrez Cardona told her father she wanted to follow in his footsteps. He had made the trek from Guatemala to the U.S. 15 years earlier in search of a new life. The 23-year-old was one of 13 people killed in a collision involving a big rig and an SUV.

— The number of Californians leaving the Bay Area has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly from San Francisco, according to a new study.

— State authorities have grown increasingly concerned about a fire-prone homeless camp near Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park. But once dismantled, the camp springs back.

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— The organizers of the Rose Parade say they’re planning for the event to return in 2022 after taking time off because of the pandemic.

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NATION-WORLD

— The Supreme Court’s conservative majority sided with the government in a pair of rulings, one that limited the Freedom of Information Act and another that made it harder for immigrants to fight deportation if they have minor crimes on their records.

— A 19-year-old protester in Myanmar has become an early martyr in the opposition movement against a military junta. Her death comes as a raging political crisis threatens to spiral into a humanitarian one.

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North Korea may be trying to extract plutonium to make more nuclear weapons at its main atomic complex, recent satellite photos indicated, weeks after leader Kim Jong Un vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal.

Fox News’ scrappy White House correspondent grills Biden. The president has taken notice, and not in the hostile way journalists experienced when covering Donald Trump.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Dua Lipa is pop’s new superstar. She’s also a bit of a mystery.

— The airing of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah lands nearly one year after the couple made the U.S. their home. Here’s what they’ve been up to.

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— Disney+'s “WandaVision” is coming to an end. It mixed sitcom aesthetics, superhero stories and profound emotion. It’s also full of fake commercials. Here’s what all those clips are really telling us.

— In his first TV interview since “stepping aside” indefinitely as host of “The Bachelor,” host Chris Harrison admitted he “made a mistake” by defending a contestant at the center of a racism controversy. He also expressed a desire to return to the show.

BUSINESS

— Nearly a year after it closed because of the pandemic, Universal Studios Hollywood plans to reopen on weekends to let fans buy food, shop and wander throughout most of the 415-acre park that celebrates moviemaking.

SpaceX’s futuristic Starship looked as though it aced a touchdown Wednesday. But minutes after the company declared success, the craft exploded on the landing pad with so much force that it was hurled into the air.

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SPORTS

— Lawyers representing high school athletes in San Diego announced that they have reached a settlement with the state that would allow high school sports to resume when certain case rate benchmarks are met.

— The Dodgers’ Chris Taylor is a regular guy who doesn’t mind his irregular role on the team.

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OPINION

— If a Republican cause can’t win big in Orange County, it’s probably doomed statewide, and the effort to recall Newsom seems headed for failure there, writes columnist George Skelton.

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— California is promising equity in vaccines. But there’s a big potential problem, columnist Erika D. Smith writes.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— The new Saint Augustine’s Falcons cycling team is the first for a historically Black college and university. (The Undefeated)

— Last year, an Iditarod rookie made it about 96% of the way to Nome. It has haunted him ever since. (Anchorage Daily News)

ONLY IN L.A.

The state of California has been advocating for granny flats, a.k.a. additional dwelling units, to be built in backyards as a way to address the lack of affordable housing. But building one in L.A., as in many places, can be a long process of seeking permits and revisions. To speed things up, the city has created a set of preapproved designs — including a playful studio in the form of a flower, or a contemporary two-story apartment that offers minimalist chic at a backyard scale.

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Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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