SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — According to a new survey, 80 percent of people who live in Bay Area want to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The bad news? The supply of doses remains limited.READ MORE: Bay Area Health Expert Hails Potential of Single-Shot COVID-19 Vaccine in Pandemic Battle
As the first week of Feb. 2021 comes to an end, only about 10 percent of Californians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That means tens of millions more are waiting for their chance.
Despite ramped-up efforts to open mass vaccination sites, the supply of coveted doses is still limited and there is growing concern about equal access over the supply that’s allocated to California and the Bay Area. The situation is leading to frustration, anger and accusations of favoritism and gamesmanship.
Unfortunately, there are examples of some truly bad behavior which reinforce those complaints.
For starters, there’s the story of a Canadian mogul and his wife who allegedly violated public health rules.
Authorities claim they chartered a private plane, flew 300 miles to a tiny community in the Yukon, ignored quarantine orders, posed as new motel workers and got COVID-19 shots that were intended for vulnerable, Indigenous elders.
“I think they should be ashamed of themselves. They put a community at risk for their own benefit,” said British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Then there is a horrifying story about a paramedic in Florida who was arrested for pocketing three doses intended for first responders.
According to Polk County sheriff Grady Judd, the paramedic did it at the behest of his supervisor who is a fire department captain. The captain wanted the COVID-19 vaccines for his elderly mother. He was eventually arrested but the vaccines were left unrefrigerated for weeks in a car and were ruined.
“I only have one question for them: ‘What were you thinking?'” Sheriff Judd exclaimed.
While these cases in the frozen tundra and the Sunshine State are extreme, experts believe that, in the Bay Area, there is mad dash for vaccines taking place on an uneven playing field.
“I don’t think anyone should think they’re above having this happen in their county, in their area. These abuses do happen and they happen everywhere,” said Dr. Taryn Vian, a global public health expert at the University of San Francisco who specializes in studying corruption and abuse found in health care systems.
Dr. Vian told KPIX that inequalities in the U.S. can lead to jumping in line.
“Our system privileges the wealthy. It privileges people who have health insurance, who have jobs, who have permanent housing and so those people are more likely to get closer up in the line and try to influence the system,” Vian said.
Add to that the chaotic rollout of a limited supply of vaccine during a deadly pandemic.
“The one thing we can say with certitude is that there is confusion and, where there’s confusion, there’s always problems,” said Dr. Alison Bateman-House, a medical ethicist at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine.
When asked about the scope of the problem, she said no one actually knows,READ MORE: High School Girl Sues San Mateo County, State of California to Allow Indoor Youth Sports
“Record-keeping and reporting is one of the weaknesses of our system,” she explained.
Experts say anecdotes of abuse are plentiful. They include preferential treatment for big donors, bribes, traveling to another county or state, giving leftover vaccines to people you know and doctors hiring family members or friends as temporary health care staff so they can be vaccinated.
“The one that I’ve seen that hits me the hardest was the idea of temporarily placing your elder in a nursing home so they could get access through that,” said Dr. Bateman-House.
As for the Bay Area, Santa Clara County Public Health took action and suspended additional vaccine doses to Good Samaritan Hospital after the facility offered to vaccinate teachers and staff at Los Gatos Union School District before it reached out to more eligible, higher risk individuals.
“Affirmatively suggesting that staff should sign up as if they were health care workers,” said counsel for Santa Clara County, James Williams.
The hospital regrets what it calls “a mistake” and submitted a plan offering stronger checks and balances.
Dr. Vian noted that it’s important to build systems that prevent abuse.
“It is big deal because it affects people’s trust of government, trust that things were handled fairly,” Dr. Vian said.
Polls show trust in the government is already at an all-time low.
Experts fear distrust in the vaccine rollout will only encourage people to secure a vaccine on their own and not wait their turn.
“I think that people do get frustrated,” said Jon Jacobo of Latino Task Force.
Jacobo helped launch San Francisco’s first neighborhood COVID-19 vaccine site located in the heart of the Mission District. The goal of the clinic is to provide vaccines to an underserved community hard-hit by the pandemic.
But, Jacobo told KPIX, there are already reports of wealthier outsiders coming in seeking vaccines.
“This goes out to my worried, well folks that are more affluent that live in nice neighborhoods and have not had the high levels of infection that somewhere like the Mission has: Is this really the time you need to get the shot?” Jacobo asked.
As for California, the state has new streamlined eligibility rules based on age and has hired Blue Shield to allocate vaccines and maintain a centralized database.
“I think that this is going to help even out a lot of the discrepancies,” said UCSF epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford.MORE NEWS: Longtime San Francisco Merchants Lament Recent Spike in Burglaries
Time will tell if Blue Shield is up to the task. In the meantime, in order to restore confidence in the system, experts say it going to take more money, more people and a much more reliable supply of vaccine.