Contra Costa health officials to address Gioia’s complaints of COVID-19 vaccine inequity in high minority population areas of West, East County

Source: Contra Costa Health Services

Less than 5% immunization compared to 11-13.8% in Alamo, Lafayette and Walnut Creek where the population is older.

The county is distributing the vaccine primarily to residents 75 years and older, said Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano – “I really do believe we are at the turning of the tide of this pandemic at this point.”

Annual Board Retreat held virtually

Photo: CC Health Services.

By Daniel Borsuk

During the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors annual retreat Tuesday, Jan. 26, the county’s top health official made a major admission, saying her department will investigate questions into claims of unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccination injections in areas with high populations of Black and Latino residents.

Contra Costa Health Services Director Anna Roth was put in the hot seat by District 1 Supervisor John Gioia who, like last week, raised similar questions as to why the COVID-19 vaccine is being unequally distributed in the district he represents. His district includes the cities of Richmond and El Cerrito and other communities with high percentages of minorities who are more prone to be stricken with coronavirus, than in other communities that tend to be wealthier and have higher percentages of white residents.

Gioia also cited other high percentage minority communities like Antioch, Bay Point, and Pittsburg in supervisorial District 5 for exposing residents to the COVID-19.  District 5 is represented by Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg who did not comment on the issue.

Gioia said the vaccination rate in Antioch is five percent, in Bay Point it is 4.3 percent, in Richmond it’s 4.5 percent, while in Alamo the vaccination rate is 11 percent, 12 percent in Lafayette, and 13.8 percent in Walnut Creek.

“You make a very important point.  The early data is showing an inequity,” Health Director Roth said.  “We hear your request for a more specific plan.”

Last week, when Gioia raised the same inequity issue, Roth did not acknowledge the Supervisor’s issue as significant enough for possible further study.

Discussion about the vaccine inequity distribution issue arose at the same time Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s administration announced it would boost the supply of COVID-19 vaccines by about 16 percent for the next three weeks.  White House officials said the order would buy enough additional doses to vaccinate most of the U.S. population with a with a two-dose regimen by the end of summer.  Contra Costa County Health officials were unavailable to comment about that development. Like all counties in California, vaccine distribution is overseen by the state.

However, during the Health Services COVID-19 Response Update to the board, Dr. Chris Farnitano, the county’s health officer, pointed out that the county is distributing the vaccine primarily to residents 75 years and older. Of 93,000 doses administered, 61,000 have been given to citizens older than 75 years, he explained.

“I really do believe we are at the turning of the tide of this pandemic at this point,” Farnitano also stated at the end of the presentation.

Retreat Highlights

During their remotely held retreat, the supervisors were presented glimpses of the 2021 budget, economic forecasts, future capital improvement projects, redistricting, economic development, and developments planned at the two County-owned airports in Byron and at Buchanan Field in Concord.

Among some of the highlights of the presentations were:

  • Supervisors expressed their preference for the potential construction of a 20,000 square foot, two-story office building with 80 underground parking spaces to be built at 651 Pine St., the former site of the 12-story McBrien Administration Building that will be demolished now that that county’s new four story $95 million administration David Twa Administration Building has been completed and is open for limited occupancy due to COVID-19.

“The economy will be roaring back,” forecast economist Dr. Christopher Thornberg. He made the prediction despite the fact that California faces a $54 billion budget deficit, “public transit like BART is going to have a tough time getting out of this thing, but electrically powered cars I see coming down the pike.”

  • Former County Administrator David Twa will oversee work on the county’s redistricting process, a process that occurs every 10 years to adjust supervisorial district boundaries. The complex process involves conducting public hearings and meeting state and federal guidelines that are dependent on when the federal government releases 2020 census data.  There is concern that due to COVID-19, the availability of census data might be delayed.
  • The two county airports at Byron and Buchanan have generated a 9% increase in revenue for the county since 2017. The Byron airport recently landed, said Airports Director Keith Freitas, a vertical take landing aviation company.  There are 10 ongoing development projects at the airports including fire station No. 9 and a new administration building at the Buchanan Airport in Concord.
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