Why does California’s health care giant Kaiser lag in getting vaccines to seniors?

Kaiser Permanente, which serves the largest share of the state’s health insurance market and runs a vast hospital system, has received a disproportionately small share of vaccines from the state, according to the company and government officials.

That leaves some of its older members out of luck while seniors with other providers stand a better chance of getting a shot, a dynamic highlighting inconsistencies in the state’s distribution of limited resources.

Across California, Kaiser is still prioritizing vaccines only for members over 75, even as other health care providers and the state’s mass vaccination sites are now open to Californians over 65. In Northern California, the state has given Kaiser 269,500 vaccines — too few to cover its members over the age of 75, let alone its health care workers. When the state changed to age-prioritized guidelines a month ago, supply didn’t keep up, the company said.

“The supply we received did not increase aligned with our coverage of 25{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of the state’s population,” a Kaiser spokesperson said. “We have been working with the state to address this, and over the last couple weeks the allotment we have received has increased. We expect the allocation to continue to increase.”

The issue has been stark in Santa Clara County, where Kaiser received less than 10{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of vaccines despite serving about 30{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of the population, Dr. Rakesh Chaudhary from Kaiser said during a town hall this week.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian said that at one point, Kaiser didn’t have enough vaccines to inoculate its health care workers as eligibility opened to the public and got at least 4,000 doses from the county to fill the gap. Last week, Kaiser had to cancel more than 5,000 vaccine appointments because it didn’t get a promised shipment of doses. The county public health department said inequitable supply was the reason it changed its guidelines two days later to a “no wrong door” policy that offers vaccines to anyone eligible regardless of their health care provider — meaning that Kaiser patients 65 and up can get vaccinated elsewhere.

John Culver and Janine Bajus check out a Berkeley free library.

John Culver and Janine Bajus check out a Berkeley free library.

Brittany Hosea-Small / Special to The Chronicle

The county confirmed that Kaiser has received a small allocation relative to the number of people it serves but said the health system is expected to receive “a much larger share” next week.

Darrel Ng, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, said he could not comment on allocations to any specific provider and did not answer why Kaiser had received a disproportionately small supply.

Last week, the state reallocated an additional 150,000 doses to Kaiser, with 50{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} going to its members and 50{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} going to disproportionately affected populations, Ng said. Kaiser said thanks to that reallocation, it was able to provide vaccines to anyone over 65 at Moscone Center.

“The No. 1 factor in the lack of vaccines for any state, county, health system or provider is the extremely constrained vaccine supply overall,” Ng said.

California has so far administered 5 million doses — a fraction of the roughly 17 million needed to give to all health care workers and Californians over the age of 65. For the first four to six weeks of the vaccine rollout, allocation was based on populations of health care workers, then readjusted for those over 65 a month ago, Ng said.

The state has been giving 80{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of its vaccine supply to counties and 20{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} to multicounty entities, including Kaiser, Santa Clara County officials said Thursday. Sutter Health and UCSF Health, which also get doses directly from the state, opened up vaccinations to people over age 65, even though they don’t yet have enough vaccines for everyone eligible to receive one. Kaiser has not yet done so for that age group, but expects to receive a larger share next week.