Monterey County is asking Governor Newsom for more coronavirus vaccine. Essentially, county supervisors are saying the current allocation process is unfair. KAZU News spoke with the Chair of the Board of Supervisors, Wendy Root Askew.
KAZU's Michelle Loxton interviewed the District 4 supervisor. A transcript of that conversation is below.
Michelle Loxton (ML): With KAZU News, I'm Michelle Loxton. At the end of last month, Monterey County's Board of Supervisors sent out a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom to ask for assistance with the equitable supply and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. The letter lays out the reasons why inequities in vaccine allocation is placing Monterey County at a distinct disadvantage when compared to counties like Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo. The letter also asks for a special allocation of the vaccine for agricultural workers who have experienced the highest infection rates in the county. The letter is signed by the board's current chair and newly elected district four supervisor, Wendy Root Askew.
Supervisor, my first question to you is why do you believe Monterey County is so disadvantaged compared to our neighbors. In the letter you go as far as to describe the allocation as unfair?
Wendy Root Askew (WRA): Yeah, so what we do know is that Monterey County has been hit incredibly hard by the COVID pandemic and we know that we have certain demographics of our community who are experiencing disproportionate impacts. And so the county Board of Supervisors is really asking the state to recognize that we have unique needs here in Monterey County, that would necessitate additional vaccine to address the disproportionate impact of the covid pandemic on our community.
ML: So you mention in the letter some of the factors that make this inequitable, things that are mentioned are multi-county entities. Could you tell me about that?
WRA: Right. So a multi-county health entity is an organization like Kaiser -- a healthcare organization that spans multiple counties. And what we understand is that the state is giving direct allocation to those entities and then giving a direct allocation in addition to the county health department for distribution. Because Monterey County doesn't have a multi-county health entity, we believe that we're being disadvantaged in terms of access to the vaccine. And what we're asking is that the state make up for that difference.
ML: And you are also asking for ag workers to be given special allocation of the vaccine. Why?
WRA: What we're saying is that we have additional seasonal workforce that comes into Monterey County. Approximately 35,000 agricultural workers are scheduled to arrive in Monterey County this spring to perform work that provides food for our entire nation. And we don't have reason to believe that those 35,000 agricultural workers are included in the population based distribution that the state is using. So we're just looking for, and what we're asking for and what we believe is right, is a fair distribution of the COVID vaccine into Monterey County.
ML: You also are asking for transparency about how the vaccine is being allocated. Do you feel that there is a lack of transparency?
WRA: We do, it's been really hard and I'm going to acknowledge how difficult and challenging this has been for all agencies, for the state, for the feds. We're talking about an unprecedented distribution of lifesaving product, at a scale by which we have never been asked to deliver on that before. We're also acknowledging that, you know, at this point the state data systems are not fully transparent. We don't know what the formulas are that are being used for distribution into counties and the data system that allows us to see who's using vaccine. We know that that's not accurate information either. What we need is we need to know exactly how the formulas are being developed and who's getting vaccine, what the reasons are they're getting vaccine so that we can make informed decisions about how to move forward and be really clear and transparent with the community.
ML: So your letter makes me think that these concerns, if they aren't met, residents in Monterey County will have to wait in the queue longer for the vaccine. So I almost imagine a 30-year-old teacher in Monterey County will wait longer than a teacher of the same age, say, in a neighboring county. And that would have far reaching implications for health and economy here locally.
WRA: Michelle I think you've really put the nail on the head right there. In Monterey County, when you look at Phase 1B, we have upwards of 200,000 residents who fall into Phase 1B. If we're comparing Monterey County in terms of distribution to another county where they don't have a large agricultural workforce, Monterey County is absolutely at a disadvantage in terms of our ability to get vaccine out to all of our Phase 1B workforce. Phase 1B includes everyone over the age of 65. We know that Monterey County has a large population of people over the age of 65. So if the state is saying that they're committed to distributing vaccine equitably and allowing every county to immunize their Phase 1B workforce, Monterey County by default needs an additional allocation to ensure equitable access to the vaccine for all of our Phase 1B workforce.
ML: And I imagine this also affects the recovery of our economy. The more people who we can get vaccinated, you can open the schools, you can open the restaurants, you can open the hotels. It goes on and on.
WRA: The domino effect is significant. And we remain in the purple tier in terms of the state's road map to a safer economy. One of the most significant things that we can do to move our county out of that purple tier, into the red tier, where we can begin a process of reopening our businesses and returning children to school, requires us to to control the spread of this virus in the communities where that spread has been most significant and severe. So getting additional vaccine for our farm workers and for our communities that have been most significantly impacted is a top priority for the Board of Supervisors.
ML: Wendy Root Askew is the current chair of Monterey County’s Board of Supervisors and the lead signature on a letter to Governor Newsom about the inequities in vaccine allocation. I'm Michelle Loxton. This is KAZU News.
The Monterey County Vaccine Schedule can be found here and vaccine appointments, for those eligible, can be booked here. Officials say appointment slots fill up quickly and are urging the public to persevere. They also recommend eligible residents call their doctors as they may have their own vaccine supply.