A first look at Blue Shield's plan to take over California's vaccine distribution

Last week, Governor Newsom announced that health insurer, Blue Shield, is taking over California's coronavirus vaccine distribution.

There has been very little information about the plan until Wednesday evening when some details were revealed during the biweekly California Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting.

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"We're suffering from individual and collective exhaustion. We just want this to be over, right now," said Paul Markovich, CEO of Blue Shield of California.

With broad strokes, he explained to physicians and state leaders how the health insurance giant plans to make that happen, as they take over California's vaccine operation.

"We are going to track all vaccines from order to injection. I've told my team, if there's a truck on the side of the road with the vaccine in it just outside of Fresno we need to know that."

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Markovich said Blue Shield's phase one involves improved communication, data, and tracking. Phase two will be accelerating the rate of vaccination.

"We believe there's going to be more vaccine coming in the coming months, we need to be ready for it," Markovich said.

On the CVAC call, Marta Green, Chief of CalPERS Health Plan Research & Administration, said that California will also use performance based payments to Blue Shield to ensure equitable distribution of vaccine.

"We're gonna have payments to providers for vaccinating communities of color. We're gonna have payments for targeted outreach and engagement efforts," Green said.

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It was a surprise when Governor Newsom announced that Blue Shield was going to oversee the state's vaccine rollout. On Wednesday, when Newsom was asked why Blue Shield was chosen and if they were being favored for their political support of him in the past, he said, "that's nonsense. We had a partnership with Blue Shield that was developed by a team of experts."

Newsom went on to explain that the state, "identified two partners, in particular to nonprofits, Kaiser and Blue Shield, both offering unique experience well established companies here in the state of California. They have the kind of scale, they have the capacity. They have the allocation distribution mindset that we were looking for. And that's why the team recommended this partnership. And I concurred."

UC Berkeley public health policy expert, Stephen Shortell, says he's cautiously optimistic about Blue Shield's takeover. On Wednesday, he spent some time on a call with California Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, about the plan.

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"Although health insurers have a bad name in general, Blue Shield of California has a good reputation, they have credibility, they have trust... certainly in the health policy community," explained Shortell, who said that unlike the State, Blue Shield has the technology and infrastructure to keep track of the vaccines.

"Public health infrastructure has been under-funded for decades and therefor we need relationships with the private sector."

Blue Shield says they plan to introduce their new network later this month.

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