SACRAMENTO – Today, the ACLU of California, joined by members of the Community Vaccine Advisory Committee (CVAC) and numerous other equity, health access, and community organizations called on Governor Newsom and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to immediately direct that people in congregate living environments be prioritized for vaccine access and release a clear plan to vaccinate these populations.
In January, CDPH announced a dramatic shift away from equity towards an age-based system for vaccine prioritization. This framework appears to eliminate any priority for people living in congregate settings including prisons and jails, immigrant detention centers, and shelters for the unhoused. For many populations and communities that are at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, the inability to isolate safely from others is a key factor. The heightened risk to these populations is beyond dispute: both the National Academy of Medicine and the the American Medical Association strongly recommend vaccine priority for congregate settings. This medical consensus undoubtedly informed CDPH’s prioritization of congregate living environments until it abruptly shifted its plans for vaccine priority.
Over 30 community organizations have signed a joint letter urging CDPH to promptly release a plan for delivering the vaccine to people at heightened risk in congregant living environments. These include California’s prisons, jails, and immigrant detention centers which have been at the center of ongoing, large-scale outbreaks of COVID-19.
“Governor Newsom has refused to release many medically vulnerable incarcerated people or halt voluntary transfers to federal immigration authorities. This inaction has led to avoidable deaths and continued outbreaks in these facilities where people are not allowed to keep a safe distance. California must prioritize vaccine availability for incarcerated people,” said Yoel Haile, Interim Criminal Justice Program Director for the ACLU of Northern California.
“Private detention facilities have long been places of horror for our immigrant community members. Now, with COVID, the cruelty continues with a complete disregard for safety protocols that has resulted in the virus spreading at unprecedented levels. The Governor, state departments, and local governments need to work with community advocates on immediate plans for vaccine distribution to ensure all of those most vulnerable to COVID are protected. But vaccinating is just the bare minimum. We must get immigrants out of crowded detention centers and back into their communities where they can be healthy and safe,” said Orville Thomas, Director of Government Affairs at the California Immigrant Policy Center, a member of the CVAC.
The new CDPH guidance also does not prioritize unhoused people living in congregant shelters who are at higher-risk for COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions, the lack of access to safe and sanitary facilities, and the difficulty of maintaining a safe social distance. Significant racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes are amplified for this population in California as Black people and people of color are far more likely to experience homelessness.
“Fear of COVID-19 should not be yet another barrier that prevents people experiencing homelessness from finding shelter, particularly during the winter when living outside carries its own health risks. Beyond the recommendations by the National Academy of Medicine and the American Medical Association that prioritize people in congregate settings because of high COVID risks, people in congregate communities also do not have the option to shelter at home or quarantine if they are sick. Providing them with vaccines will not only protect individuals, ultimately it will protect California communities more broadly,” said Jen Flory, Policy Advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a member of the CVAC.
For most individuals in congregate settings, the most efficient method of vaccination is to offer them to everyone, without applying restrictions based on age or other criteria. It is nearly impossible for these individuals to access vaccinations outside of these settings and the current prioritization framework would require medical providers to visit shelters, jails, and other congregate sites repeatedly based on the sequence of prioritization. The Governor and CDPH must do more to ensure that individuals who are most at risk are prioritized in their vaccination framework.
Organizations who have signed on to the letter include:
• Alliance for a Better Community
• American Civil Liberties Union of California
• California Immigrant Policy Center
• California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network
• California National Organization for Women
• California OneCare/HEAL California
• California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation
• Chosen Generation Fellowship Church
• Coalition for Responsible Community Development
• Community Health Councils
• Crenshaw Subway Coalition
• Criminal Justice Program, UCLA School of Law
• Democratic Socialists of America – Los Angeles (DSA-LA)
• Dignity & Power NOW
• Disability Rights California
• Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
• Gender Justice LA
• Housing California
• Immigrant Defense Advocates
• Immigrant Legal Resource Center
• Inner City Law Center
• Invisible Men
• LA Forward
• Law Foundation of Silicon Valley
• Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
• Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)
• Mirror Memoirs
• National Health Law Program
• National Trans Visibility March
• Safe Place for Youth
• Southeast Asian Community Alliance
• SWOP Sacramento
• The Promise Institute for Human Rights
• Think Dignity
• Toberman Neighborhood Center
• Trans Can Work
• Transgender, Gender-Variant, & Intersex Justice Project
• Venice Community Housing
• West Valley People’s Alliance
• Western Center on Law & Poverty