California uses ZIP codes, outreach to boost vaccine equity

Full Screen
1 / 6

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Juan Delgado, 73, right, receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot from a health care worker at a vaccination site in the Mission district of San Francisco, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Counties in California and other places in the U.S. are trying to ensure they vaccinate people in largely Black, Latino and working-class communities that have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. San Francisco is reserving some vaccines for seniors in the two ZIP codes hit hardest by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

SAN FRANCISCO – Hing Yiu Chung lives in a racially diverse San Francisco neighborhood hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. While vaccines have been difficult to come by, the 69-year-old got one by showing proof she lives where she does.

She had to wait in line for two hours with other seniors, some who were disabled or leaning on canes, for a chance at a couple hundred shots available each day through a local public health clinic in the Bayview neighborhood.

“Fortunately, it wasn’t a cold or rainy day, otherwise it would have been harder," she said in Chinese.

The experience wasn’t ideal, but targeting vulnerable ZIP codes is one way San Francisco and other U.S. cities and counties are trying to ensure they vaccinate people in largely Black, Latino and working-class communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic. In Dallas, authorities tried to prioritize such ZIP codes, which tended to be communities of color, but backtracked after the state threatened to reduce the city’s vaccine supply.

Nationwide, states are struggling to distribute vaccines equitably even as officials try to define what equity means. They're debating what risk factors gets someone to the head of the line: those in poverty, communities of color, their job or if they have a disability. Others simply want to vaccinate as many people as possible, as soon as possible.

In California, which has prioritized seniors and health care workers, Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced a federal partnership for mass vaccination sites set to open next week in Oakland and east Los Angeles, saying the locations were chosen to target working-class “communities that are often left behind."

“Our focus is on equity, in and around that census tract, not just ZIP code," Newsom said Tuesday. “I don’t want folks coming from all over the Bay Area that are well resourced, that have vehicles, for example, that can get ahead of the line, literally not just figuratively, to take advantage of that."

Newsom also says a new state vaccine distribution system will pay providers to offer shots in vulnerable neighborhoods and communities of color. Insurer Blue Shield of California will run the program and collect demographics on who's getting the shots.