March 2, 2021



Walters: Who will have priority for COVID-19 vaccine in California?

There’s nothing new about political jousting over shares of a limited but valuable resource.

For instance, Californians have been squabbling for decades over divvying up water supplies among agricultural interests, municipal consumers and the natural environment. The conflict never goes away but increases in intensity every time the state experiences one of its periodic droughts – and this so-far dry autumn may be a harbinger of another such dry spell.

The annual business of writing a new state budget is always an exercise in political rationing. Even in times of prosperity, when the state treasury is awash in tax money, there’s never quite enough to satisfy all of the demands and expressions of urgent need. More for schools, more for health care, more for colleges, more for child care or more for prisons?

Those who hire the most and best lobbyists, shower legislators with campaign contributions and wage lavish media campaigns tend over time to fare the best when Capitol politicians decide who gets how much cash.

The allocations of water and money obvious have serious impacts on the contending parties, but usually they are not all-or-nothing situations. Even the losers generally wind up with something, even if they see it as not enough.

A new political free-for-all is just beginning and this time it is all-or-nothing, potentially with life-or-death consequences – who gets the very limited initial supply of vaccine against the potentially deadly coronavirus.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that he expects California to receive an initial allocation of 327,000 doses of vaccine in mid-December. His administration wants to prioritize vaccinations of health care workers who are most in danger of being infected with the virus.

Few would argue with that intent, but the initital vaccine supply doesn’t come close to covering everyone who falls into that general category. California has more than two million health care workers, and even within that group, there’s a certain level of competition.

Organizations local-term care facilities, otherwise known as nursing homes, are pressing for first-tier priority, contending that their elderly clients are being disproportionately infected, often with fatal consequences.

However, another argument is being made for nurses, doctors and others who are directly caring for COVID-19 victims in hospitals.

Expanding vaccinations beyond health care workers will be even more daunting because no one knows when and how many additional doses of vaccine will be coming, other than sometime next year. After the implicit demand from health care workers is met, who’s next?