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When you use the word “equitable” people expect things to be, well, equal.

Good afternoon. 

When you use the word “equitable” people expect things to be, well, equal. Pam Marino here reporting on the dustup over a federal/private partnership to deliver more Covid-19 vaccines around the country.

The Federal Retail Pharmacy program was billed as an “equitable distribution” of doses, but that’s appearing to not be the case, at least in Monterey County. 

This partnership, announced by the Biden Administration on Tuesday, is supposed to pump out 1 million doses of vaccines per week, directly from the federal government to 6,500 pharmacies, beginning Feb. 11. Those doses will be administered to “eligible populations,” depending on the tier situation in each location.

It’s really multiple partnerships with pharmacy chains around the country, including CVS Health, which is expected to receive 250,000 doses to deliver to 330 stores in 11 states, including California.

The day of the announcement in Washington, D.C., White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters that the Centers for Disease Control was making sure the pharmacies chosen in the first phase “are located in areas that are harder to reach, to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses.”

After the announcement, a list of 100 CVS pharmacies set to receive vaccines was circulating. Immediately, Monterey County leaders cried foul. 

The “equitable” distribution included two pharmacies in the county, one in Monterey and one in Carmel, where cumulative confirmed Covid-19 cases number 870 and 188, respectively. Together, those cities account for just 2.63 percent of all of the county’s more than 40,000 cases since almost one year ago. They’re also more affluent and more white than areas in the Salinas Valley, where Latino residents make up the largest percentage of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Yesterday, Monterey County Board of Supervisors Chair Wendy Root Askew, on behalf of the board, sent a letter to CVS Health President and CEO Karen S. Lynch, at 1 CVS Dr., Woonsocket, Rhode Island, expressing concern over the choice of locations. 

She uses Zients’ quote about ensuring equitable distribution, as well as a statement issued by Lynch herself, that CVS is an “ideal partner” because its pharmacies have been serving “underserved communities” throughout the pandemic.

“If that is the case, we would gladly work with you and your team to identify other CVS Pharmacy locations that can administer vaccinations in areas of the county with the highest rates of infection, hospitalization and death, such as the city of Salinas and cities in Southern Monterey County where multigenerational housing and other factors put these communities at higher risk,” Askew wrote to Lynch.

Based on recent county data showing Covid incidences per zip code, Askew specifically recommends 347 E. Alisal St. in Salinas and 2293 H Dela Rosa St. in Soledad as alternatives. 

The East Alisal location is the most centrally located to two adjacent Salinas zip codes that had high case rates in January. (In 93905: 101.7 cases per 100,000 people; in 93906, 84.1 per 100,000.) Soledad’s rate was 81.2. Greenfield had the highest rate of all (123.5) and King City’s was 104.6. Compare those numbers to the communities where CVS plans to administer vaccines: 26.7 cases per 100,000 in January in Monterey, and 13.5 in Carmel. 

I emailed the CVS Health media department asking for an explanation of exactly how locations were chosen, but I haven’t heard back yet from anyone in Woonsocket.

-Pam Marino, staff writer, pam@mcweekly.com

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