California to give 40% of vaccine to Latino, high-risk areas

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FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2021, file photo, street musician Roberto Hernandez, originally from El Salvador, plays "Lambada" on his trumpet outside Buddy's, a restaurant temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles County could move into the next phase of reopening with fewer restrictions as early as next week, though any actual lifting of coronavirus-related constraints would not happen immediately, health officials said Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California will begin sending 40% of all vaccine doses to the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the state to try to inoculate people most at risk from the coronavirus and get the state’s economy open more quickly, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday in the latest shake-up to the state's rules.

The doses will be spread among 400 ZIP codes where there are about 8 million people eligible for shots, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary. Many of the neighborhoods are in Los Angeles County and the central valley, which have had among the highest rates of infection.

The areas are considered most vulnerable based on metrics such as household income, education level and access to health care. Newsom said that not only is this the right thing to do, it's critical to opening up more of the state's economy.

“It is a race against the variants. It's a race against exhaustion. It's a race to safely, thoughtfully open our economy, mindful that it has to be an economy that doesn't leave people behind, that is truly inclusive,” Newsom, a Democrat, said at a news conference. He also encouraged people to wear two masks.

The announcement is the latest change in an evolving approach to getting nearly 40 million residents vaccinated, adding to ongoing confusion among people clamoring for shots. The move to ease reopening also comes days after several Republican-led states lifted COVID-19 restrictions as the U.S. now has three vaccines available.

Tying reopening to vaccination equity metrics was cheered by representatives of the legislative Black and Latino caucuses, as well as social justice and equity groups. Latinos make up roughly half of cases and deaths in California even though they are 39% of the population.

Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, said the dedicated vaccine hasn't come soon enough given the disparate numbers of deaths and the lack of access to vaccines in the hardest-hit communities.

“They are living day-to-day, so they have to go and work in order to survive and they don’t have the luxury to take half a day to go where the vaccine sites are,” he said.