California health officials discuss moving away from vaccine tier system

California is having preliminary discussions about making changes to the vaccine tier system. It comes amid shortages, delays, and confusion.

During Wednesday night's California Department of Public Health Community Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting, California Surgeon General, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris said, "one of things we're hearing loud and clear with challenges in vaccine rollout is that there's a great need for simplicity and clarity."

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Sources tell ABC7 the state is discussing whether it makes sense to move away from the tier system and create a more age-based system for vaccine distribution.

"I think that age is probably going to be a big driver for the next wave of vaccinations by the state," said Stanford epidemiologist, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado. "That's what the UK did. That's what a lot of other states are doing is they're just going by age."

Maldonado is a member of California's COVID-19 vaccine safety review group. "We've been getting pretty good signals that they need to make it a lot simpler. Absolutely. It's too confusing."

"I think our goal ultimately is to get shots in arms," said UCSF chief pharmacy exec, Desi Kotis. "But I also think we need to be thoughtful, and look at the evidence."

Kotis says that means taking risk factors beyond just age into account, which the existing tier system does by prioritizing essential workers and those living in communal settings. She says ultimately it's not a tier issue, it's a supply issue. "We just need to get the supply that we haven't been able to receive, and have it be a very consistent supply chain, like with other vaccines and drugs."

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UCSF's Dr. George Rutherford expects that to happen with the Biden administration. "We're going to get federal help for delivering vaccines, they're going to be setting up federal vaccination centers, we're gonna get a lot of help. And it's sort of just in the nick of time."

ABC7 reached out to the California Department of Public Health about the a potential change to the tier system. They said, "we regularly talk to groups about how to make vaccine distribution more equitable and efficient."

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