Vaccine access poses challenges 

Tiered system slows access for many

Across the country, communities rush to vaccinate their most at-risk citizens: the elderly and health-care workers first. However, even locally, in the scramble to receive the coveted COVID-19 vaccine, some people cut the lines, leaving out those who are most vulnerable without the vaccine.  

The United States has distributed tens of millions of doses of the vaccine since the federal Food and Drug Administration first approved vaccines in early December. These numbers, however, pale in comparison to the need for the COVID-19 vaccine. This initial lack of distribution and scramble by Americans to receive the vaccine brings concerns about vaccine equity.

In an effort to fairly distribute the vaccine to those most in need, the state and federal government created tiers of people to receive the vaccine. The tiers are typically organized by age but  health care workers also take priority. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of uncertainty and confusion regarding who will receive the vaccine.

“I think vaccine efforts were set up to encounter struggles, not successes. There aren’t enough vaccines for everyone, and this is a serious virus. Humans can exhibit the most altruistic and heroic behaviors, but we are known to do what it takes in the face of perceived danger,” nursing home doctor and Co-Chair of Antioch Medical Center’s Ethics Committee Annita Mittal said.

People interested in receiving the vaccine must coordinate with multiple distributors. Contra Costa County has many sites for distributing vaccinations. Locally, major healthcare providers like John Muir and Kaiser distribute the vaccine as well.

“I’m on three different sites where I am on a list and I’m waiting to hear from one of them,”  Acalanes math teacher Barbara Mochizuki said.

Recently, California also launched the MyTurn app, which helps people schedule an appointment for the vaccine, and notifies them when it’s their turn to receive it. 

“Leveraging California’s innovation and technology assets, the state is officially launching MyTurn today, a new system for Californians to learn when they are eligible to be vaccinated, a place to make an appointment when eligible, and a mechanism to easily track vaccination data,” a Jan. 26 press release from the State of California said. 

Various people across the Lamorinda community successfully received the vaccine early on, specifically healthcare workers and those who are over 75 years of age. 

“The Kaiser clinic where I received the first dose was very well organized, and the vaccine distribution went smoothly. We had to stay for 15 minutes after the jab to see if there were any serious reactions. The side effect I got was a bit of soreness around the area of the arm receiving the vaccine, which lasted just a few days.” 82-year-old local Rossmoor resident Joanna Nock said.

However, many others had different experiences. If one is not a healthcare worker or above 75 years old, it was initially much more difficult for them to receive the vaccine. 

“I do know other people who are my age and have no health risks who’ve managed to get it. Sometimes it’s just luck. I had one friend who called me and said, ‘You should try this site I got in’, and then they changed it,” math teacher Mochizuki said.

Mochizuki has not received the vaccine yet, despite being a teacher over 65 with pre-existing conditions. Many without pre-existing conditions, however, received the vaccine, some not even in this age group. 

Another concern is the strict age cutoff. Many teachers in the Acalanes Union High School District are under 65, but only by a few years. 

“A lot of the teachers at our schools may not be over 65 but a lot of them are over 55. And so I know people who are concerned,” Mochizuki said. 

Acalanes English teacher, Cathy Challacombe, is in this category. She is not over 65 and therefore has not qualified for the vaccine. 

“[My husband] was able to get vaccinated and he totally felt guilty about it. I don’t want him to feel guilty about it. I have tried all sorts of ways to get a vaccine, and so far no good,” Challacombe said. 

Specific communities across the nation concerned people about vaccine equity. Locally, though, many anonymous volunteers filed complaints about the Stanley Middle School Clinic, a vaccine distribution location here in Lafayette. The County, however, recently shut it down for unknown reasons.  

To combat any potential inequity locally, the Contra Costa County Public Health Ethics board and other similar boards work to manage concerns regarding vaccine equity. 

“Ethics Committees in the health care setting serve three main functions: to educate staff, to do consultations when requested on ethical issues, and to review and create policies within a facility or organization so that practices are consistent, in keeping with the standards of care, and fair,” Mittal said. 

However, as concerns about vaccine inequity play out, people across the globe must work together to most effectively handle this worldwide pandemic.

“This has been a very unique journey, so extending kindness and some compassion every day even if you are short on it does make a big difference, especially right now,” Mittal said.