Vaccine Watch

‘Very disappointed’: Watsonville, rest of Santa Cruz County left out of California’s vaccine equity plan

The issue is that the state’s “Healthy Places Index” is calculated using census tracts — but the vaccine allocation is being done based on ZIP codes, which are much larger.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to allocate 40% of vaccines to the most disadvantaged communities, as measured by the state’s “Healthy Places Index,” local health officials applauded the change. Targeting vaccines to the areas most affected by COVID-19 had already been a key part of Santa Cruz County’s strategy.

Now, it appears that because of a quirk in how the state is deciding which areas qualify for the targeted allocations, Santa Cruz County, and other Bay Area counties, are left out entirely.

Watsonville officials are less than pleased.

Based on its disproportionately high COVID-19 case rates, Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said he and his staff expected the city would be among the targeted communities — and were “very disappointed” to find out otherwise. Talks with the state to advocate for Watsonville’s inclusion are underway, Huffaker told city council members on Tuesday.

“We believe we should have access to those additional vaccines that have been set aside,” Huffaker said.

The issue is that the “Healthy Places Index” is calculated using census tracts — but the vaccine allocation is being done based on ZIP codes, which are much larger.

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Disadvantaged areas in Santa Cruz County are effectively diluted by being included in the same zip code as wealthier neighborhoods. For example, the 95076 ZIP code includes both Watsonville and La Selva Beach.

“They’re completely different communities,” said county communications manager Jason Hoppin. “We obviously have census tracts that are disadvantaged, and we think would qualify under the intent of the state’s program, but when they decided to use ZIP codes ... they kind of mitigate the numbers for those disadvantaged communities.”

In the meantime, the concern is that Santa Cruz County could miss out on much-needed vaccine supply.

“[This] potentially means there’s a 40% reduction in the amount of the vaccine being sent to Santa Cruz County for the duration of the program,” Hoppin said. “We think there are needy Californians here in Santa Cruz county that are kind of being forgotten about just based on how they calculated [the metrics].”

Hoppin said that Santa Cruz and other affected Bay Area communities such as Santa Clara County have also raised the issue with the state.

“I think the governor has said he’s open to discussion on this,” Hoppin said. “We’re hoping for some adjustments.”