Vaccination Chaos Fuels Push to Recall Gavin Newsom

Yves here. Even though a lot of the messaging on the petitions for Gavin Newsom’s recall are heavy on right-wing tropes, there are plenty of Democrats that are unhappy with the governor, as this California Healthline/KHN article shows.

We’ve pointed out that the Biden Administration’s fate hinged on if it can make enough headway against the virus in the next few months. Biden’s statement that his team could have no impact may have been an effort to manage expectations down, but it came off at an abdication of duty. It didn’t help when the incoming CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said the government didn’t know how many vaccine doses the US has.

By Angela Hart, Correspondent for California Healthline, covers California health politics and policy in Sacramento and around the state, with a focus on the governor, the legislature and key elections. Previously, she covered health policy and politics for Politico and previously worked for The Sacramento Bee and Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline

Joyce Hanson was thrilled when she heard Gov. Gavin Newsom announce Jan. 13 that Californians age 65 and older would be eligible to get vaccinated against covid-19.

Infections and hospitalizations had been surging in California, and Hanson knew a simple trip to the grocery store put her at greater risk of getting sick and dying. Plus, she hadn’t seen her daughter in more than a year, so she immediately began making plans to visit her in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“I felt this huge weight lifted off my heart when the governor said me and my husband could get vaccinated,” said Hanson, 69, a San Bernardino resident and registered Democrat who voted for Newsom in 2018.

She jumped online to book an appointment, frantically searching San Bernardino city and county websites for openings. Next she called pharmacies all over Southern California, then hospitals and her local health department. No luck.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Hanson, who is among a growing number of Californians becoming disillusioned with Newsom — including some of his fellow Democrats — over California’s erratic vaccination rollout, which has been riddled with mixed messages, shifting priorities and poor communication.

“The messaging hasn’t been very clear,” she said. “If we’re not going to actually be able to get the vaccine until March or April, I can deal with that, but just be honest and tell us that it’s not realistic yet.”

Since October, Newsom has touted his administration’s readiness to vaccinate the state’s 40 million residents, while repeatedly assuring them that “hope is on the horizon.” He has vowed that California would lead the nation with a fair and efficient system of delivering vaccines.

Instead, the situation has devolved into chaos and confusion, as vulnerable older people, teachers and others in essential industries scramble to find a vaccine appointment — often without help or direction from state or local officials.

Newsom, who emerged as an early leader in the pandemic when he issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order, is desperately trying to turn the situation around — and political strategists say he must do so quickly because his political future depends on it. He is facing a Republican-driven effort to recall him from office, with supporters gaining momentum from the vaccine problems. Even some in his Democratic base are beginning to question his leadership.

“This is not going well. You just cannot have these kinds of disparities we’re seeing all over California. The governor has got to get control of this vaccination effort,” said Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist Garry South, who ran the gubernatorial campaigns of former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, recalled by voters in 2003 and replaced by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“If the vaccination process is not carried out smoothly and efficiently, a lot of voters will blame him, regardless of whether it’s actually his fault or not,” South said. “People did not blame Gray Davis for starting the electricity crisis, but they did blame him for failing to solve the problem.”

Recall organizers have until March 17 to gather the roughly 1.5 million valid signatures needed to put the question before voters. As of Jan. 6, the California secretary of state’s office had received nearly 724,000 signatures.

“We’re in a mad dash to get enough,” said Orrin Heatlie, a retired Yolo County Sheriff’s Department sergeant, who is leading the recall campaign. “The dark path to getting vaccinated is not why we started this, but the governor’s mishandling of it is causing real harm and has only furthered our momentum.”

Newsom campaign spokesperson Dan Newman dismissed the recall effort as “expected background noise” and argued that Newsom is focused on ending the pandemic. “His obsessive and relentless focus is on vaccinations, and economic relief and recovery.”

Newsom has enjoyed relatively high ratings, with 58% of Californians approving of his job performance, according to the latest job approval poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. That poll was conducted in October, before any covid vaccines had been cleared for use.

While the governor cannot control the supply of vaccine flowing to California — a major limiting factor in the state’s ability to distribute doses — he is leading the statewide vaccination strategy that was submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October.

“We have long been in the vaccination business,” Newsom boasted in a news conference on Oct. 19, saying California’s experience with mass vaccination campaigns has prepared it to undertake one now, complete with public service announcements, cutting-edge technology and state support for local efforts. “Just consider — 19 million annual flu shots typically distributed here in the state of California.”

Newsom’s vaccine strategy mirrors his approach to the pandemic so far: It hands primary responsibility for administering the vaccine to the state’s 58 counties, which have different plans for who gets the shot first, how they will be notified when it’s their turn and where they will be vaccinated.

Chronically underfunded county health departments — which are drowning under other pandemic-related duties, such as covid testing, contact tracing and enforcing local restrictions on businesses — have struggled to keep up with the additional responsibilities. In many cases, they have failed to communicate effectively with the public or provide vaccines quickly and efficiently.

Dr. Phuong Luu, the health officer for Yuba and Sutter counties in rural Northern California, said overworked public health workers are spending an immense amount of time fielding phone calls from people demanding shots. “It’s an extreme amount of pressure,” she said. “People are angry and they’re calling saying, ‘No, the governor said that I’m eligible. Why aren’t you accommodating me?’”

In the Bay Area’s suburban Contra Costa County, health officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said the county cannot accommodate everyone 65 and older. It is focusing on people 75 and up, and supplies are dwindling so quickly that officials can’t promise a timely second dose.

California is consistently at the bottom nationally in percentage of shots administered, with about half of doses used as of Thursday, compared with 81.6% in West Virginia and 80.8% in North Dakota, according to an analysisof state and federal vaccine data. Texas, the state closest to California in population, has administered 60% of its shots.

Overall, 5.8% of Californians have received their first dose, compared with 6.8% of people nationally.

“States that rely heavily on counties have faced bigger challenges,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at KFF. “The more layers that this implementation has to pass through, the more challenging it seems to get.” (KHN, which produces California Healthline, is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

A bipartisan group of 47 state legislators sent Newsom a letter this month blasting the vaccination chaos. “We are all aware of the limited number of vaccines that have been made available to the states, but we believe that we need to plan for a more effective and efficient rollout,” they wrote.

Newsom has acknowledged that he must remedy the situation, pledging on Jan. 6 to administer 1 million additional vaccines in 10 days. He fell short on that promise but characterized the effort as a success, with 900,000 additional vaccinations administered by Jan. 15. This week, he released a planto speed and centralizethe vaccination distribution process by mid-February, and he unveiled a website called My Turn, which eventually will inform Californians when they are eligible and allow them to make appointments.

Widespread frustration is not unique to California. Nearly 60% of adults 65 and older in the U.S. say they don’t know when or where they will get vaccinated, and nearly three-quarters of Americans say they’re either frustrated with the status of vaccinations or flat-out angry, according to a new KFF poll.

But in California, that anger presents political difficulty for Newsom.

“He’s got more crises on his plate than any previous governor,” former governor Davis told California Healthline. “At the moment, people in California are upset, so accelerating the administration of those vaccines should be the first, and most important, thing that every public elected official does every day.”

Newsom may appear safe from a Republican-led effort in a state that votes overwhelmingly Democratic, but unlike aspects of the pandemic that have disproportionately hurt small-business owners or Black and Latino communities, the vaccination issue touches nearly all Californians.

“Newsom’s handling of the crisis may not be what qualifies it for the ballot,” said Dan Schnur, who teaches political communication at the University of Southern California and the University of California-Berkeley. “But if the recall does qualify, how the vaccination process was handled is going to be the primary basis on which voters make their decision on whether to keep him in office or not.”

Some voters say Newsom’s vaccination rollout shows it’s time for new political blood.

“You hear him on the news saying we’re doing better and we see light at the end of the tunnel, but this isn’t going well,” said Scott Hunyadi, 31, of San Dimas, who voted for Newsom in 2018. “I’d never vote for a Republican, but given the opportunity, I’d certainly vote to recall Newsom and install a better Democratic candidate if one was on the ballot.”

Hanson, who still hasn’t found an appointment, places most of the blame on former President Donald Trump. But she said Newsom has acted as a “cheerleader” for his administration rather than being honest about his missteps.

“I know he’s trying, but honestly, at this point, I’m so soured,” she said. “There’s no guarantee that anyone could do a better job, but I’d certainly look at a Democratic challenger if there was one.”

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  1. Kasia

    California is unable to accomplish simple things like counting votes, how could it be otherwise that they would fail miserably on more complex tasks like vaccine rollouts? California is a dystopian disaster, sporting the highest poverty rate in the US when adjusted for housing costs. But in today’s America failure is rewarded and the posterchild of all that is wrong with California, Kamala Harris, is just an stroke away from the Presidency.

    1. tegnost

      “California is a dystopian disaster”

      as cali goes, so goes the nation…ask ask a random sampling of californians what they think of public sector pensions…We had a commenter recently who, among other “shocking” details, actually knew the name of the highest pension beneficiary.

      1. Alex

        You know where I wouldn’t expect to find a lot of homeless people? A state with a vibrant economy, high state income tax, Dem governor, Dem supermajority in the legislature.
        That is, I wouldn’t if I were too dumb to see that the Democratic party is just a brand favored by a particular tribe of oligarchs.

        1. Synoia

          The reason the Dems are in control in CA, is because:

          1. It is 51% Hispanic
          2. The last R Governor took aim at Illegal Hispanic immigrants.

          How many Hispanics now vote Republican? Just two or is it three?

  2. Joe Well

    It needs to be said over and over again that state governments should have been planning for this since at least June.

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      It also needs to be said that there should have been a national strategy and guidance and federal dollars pumped into this effort.

  3. Tom Stone

    While Newsome is a corrupt mediocrity he is far from the worst California Governor of my lifetime.
    Reagan takes the cake.
    Simply put, all of California Government is like CalPers, or worse.
    My Sister and BIL got their first shots Wednsday, they are in Placer County.
    Yesterday I got a text message with a link to a website where I could register and make an appointment to recieve my shots, unfortunately the link does not work….

    1. tegnost

      My sister works at kaiser and got the shots and is pulling strings for 85 yo mom to get hers cause that’s how things work down there.

      1. Starry Gordon

        That’s how it’s working in New York, too. You best know somebody who knows somebody. The system to set up an appointment for vaccination is a bureaucratic nightmare which, for the most part, doesn’t function at all. As it sinks in how badly this has been done, there is going to be enormous anger. Looks like the Democrats have created their next Vietnam.

  4. The Rev Kev

    If Newsome got the chop, are there any names being banded about on who might take over his job? Is Paul Pelosi busy at all?

    1. Krombopulous Michael

      Keepin’ it in the family? I’m sure all of Paul’s time is spent figuring out where to put Nancy’s millions based on whatever insider information she’s gifted with this week.
      Here’s an LA undertaker letting us know just how overwhelmed she is:
      Newsome would be better off outsourcing vaccinations to Amazon than trying to get a bunch of fat, ossified bureaucrats to actually be effective. I’m dead serious.

      1. dogwood

        Wow that was a great video -thanks so much for posting. Short spelling out in no uncertain terms of the mess of mass death and corpses piling up right now with absolutely no help in sight.

      2. Wellstone's Ghost

        Thank you for sharing this woman’s experience as a small business funeral home operator in LA.

        I especially appreciate that she is speaking about the impact on poor minority communities in LA.

        It is obvious she is speaking from the heart and is incredibly distressed by the situation.

        I get the feeling by watching her and listening to her tone of voice that she is in a mild state of shock.

        Not because of the social isolation imposed on all of us or the dead bodies piling up with no place to go.

        No, she is in shock because the government has abandoned her and her community.

        She has come to the realization that no one is riding to the rescue.

        I must admit I feel the same way.

        I have been touching base weekly since this all began last March with an old friend who lives in LA, Pasadena area.

        He was out in front of this virus early last year with his predictions that it was going to be a long and deadly fight for the USA.

        He said the worst part about dealing with the virus would be that everyone would be left to fend for themselves.

        I’m certain his feelings about Donald Trump only solidified his belief in his predictions.

        He jokingly called the virus YOYO -19, as in You’re On Your Own.

        Man was he spot on.

        I have this strange feeling Governor Newsome will manage to find a way to fail up after all of this.

        Dubya seems to have pulled it off, why not Gavin.

  5. JayM

    My sister got my 84 year old Mom an vaccine appointment in Los Angeles County. Me and my Mom showed up at the time of the appointment and what greeted us was totally surreal; a long line going into a amusement park style “snake line” going off into the distance of which I could not clearly see the end.
    5,000+? people in a slowly moving line.

    I knew something was crazy when then there was absolutely no filtering (like you actually had an “appointment”) to get into the vaccination “super” site.

  6. Max

    My fiancé works at a Vet in the Bay Area, the state veterinary board emailed out that vet staff could start getting vaccinated as part of tier 1a. No info from the state or county either way. Half the clinic has gotten vaccinated at the same site (Santa Clara fairgrounds), half have been turned away on the spot.

  7. Henry

    While the vaccine design appears brilliant there is a lot I still don’t understand about them or the response in general. There are a lot of smart people on this site perhaps someone knows

    1) What are the modified nucleotides that are being used in the mRNA Vaccines and how does the body deal with them? Most of the nucleotides in a mRNA message are recycled after the message is taken apart. So are the modified nucleotides then incorporated into new mRNAs? if so to what effect? I believe the impact of these modified nucleotides on Cancer and biowarfare agents was the whole reason these modified nucleotide mRNAs were being researched before Covid. For example (

    2) Do the spike proteins that are generated from the mRNA vaccines retain any ability to still bind to the ACE2 or any of the other ~1/2 dozen other receptors that SARS-2 binds to? If so what is the impact?

    3) How are the spike proteins expressed by the cells producing them? Does it depend on the cell type? Are they excreted into the interstitial fluid or presented on the surface of the cell as part of the immune response or otherwise and based on the mechanism what is the risk of an autoimmune response to the cells producing these foreign proteins?

    4) What is the FDAs plan to gathering sufficient data to determine if these vaccines are safe and effective rather than the current standing as not proven safe nor effective, but approved as experimental, I believe the exact wording is “It is an investigational vaccine not licensed for any indication.”

    5) Why is California not recommending people get ample vit D? Especially LA where an hour in the sun even this time of year would be hugely beneficial and the risk of contracting Covid while outdoors appears to be negligible.

    6). I know the FlCCC has presented their findings to Government officials, specifically in LA so why aren’t the recommendations of some of the top research doctors in the US being taken especially when what is currently being done is obviously failing miserably?

    7) It’s California not New England, why don’t they open up their windows? Ok, in Northern California they might not want to do more than crack a window open, but Southern Cal?
    Ventilate your home MedCram:

    8) In response to the video KM posted above. That is truly horrifying. Still have we become so isolated and helpless that really the only solution is big government or big business?

  8. responseTwo

    What should we expect when the last 40 years has been ‘government is the problem’, rugged individualism, ‘the era of big government is over’, tax cuts, oligarchs running the government, etc. The indispensable nation is a load of BS. At 69 years old I’ve watched it all happen. We have proven that unfettered capitalism does not work.

    1. Jeff

      Excuse me, but we have big government in California. It’s not working out well for us.

      Big government, small government…. How about we give accountable government a try.

      That starts with voters pulling their heads out of their rears and paying attention in their cities and states. Orange man is gone. Don’t go back to sleep. If you think Republicans are the problem in CA , go to ballotpedia and look who which party controlled the Assembly and legislature dating back to the 90s.

  9. Fern

    I’ve been following the California vaccine priority fiasco closely. Newsom initially tried to follow the ill-advised CDC priority recommendations with a heavy emphasis on giving priority to young, healthy workers at the expense of those at high risk of dying of covid and of the unemployed. The rationale was “social equity”, but the results were the opposite since this pushed black and Hispanic seniors, who are dying in disproportionate numbers, and the unemployed further down the list.

    The problem with the CDC/California priority list was the overly-broad use of the term “essential worker/medical worker”. According to the CDC’s own numbers, “essential workers/medical workers” constituted roughly 3/4 of the full-time work-force. Needless to say, the professional/managerial class did very well under this system.

    To give a striking example from my own experience:

    “Child care” was included as one of the high-priority “essential worker” categories. On my neighborhood on-line discussion group, someone asked whether their nanny could be given priority as a child care worker. A well-known person in the community answered that “licensed nannies” were eligible for priority, but she was lobbying Sacramento to have unlicensed nannies included and thought she would be successful.

    When the hospital system began to collapse, Newsom was forced to reexamine his priorities. He made an announcement that he was moving to an age-based system. But then the lobbyists got to work, and the end result gave better standing to people aged 65 to 75 but re-instituted priority to a huge swathe of workers, which effectively pushed people 50-65 and people with relevant medical conditions further down the list.

    Most other countries, with the notable exception of Russia, place truly front-line medical workers and those most likely to die first on the list — with a heavy emphasis on age. But California and many of the Democratic states rely on the CDC recommendations, which has resulteded in political decisions heavy on virtue signaling but resulting in privilege for members of the professional/managerial class and business/industry owners who don’t want to have to pay sick leave and institute safety procedures.

    Newsom made a feeble attempt to correct this, but immediately buckled to the interest groups and ended up antagonizing everyone.

  10. Brunches with Cats

    Poor Gavin Newsom. Did everything right from the git-go, barely got honorable mention, nobody watched his daily briefings, and now this ingratitude. Life is so unfair. Why, instead of all of those high-powered family/political connections, could he not have had a brother to banter with on a major cable network?

  11. Synoia

    I live in Orange County, Southern California.

    Sunlight and temperature: Yesterday 50 deg F, and 45 deg F Overnight.

    Yes it CA is warm, sometimes hot, but not always.

    I lived in the tropics 5 deg N of the Equator. The Harmattan is a season in West Africa, which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. It is characterized by the dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, of the same name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea.

    We needed blankets at night. we had cold nights in Johannesburg in winter, 27 deg South of the Equator, and has rare snow storms.

  12. Taurus

    Gavin Newsom embodies the Democratic Party – corrupt and completely unable to govern. California is a one party state for all practical purposes. The botched vaccination is not the first crisis they have faced – it is simply the most acute.

    I was visiting in 2019 in the fall and was amazed to see the rolling blackouts through the Bay Area because the for-profit utility chose to distribute dividends over replacing utility poles. One of the richest places on Earth was content with level of electric service comparable to Bulgaria’s in 1990s. The solution is very simple, the State of California takes over the utility and pours money into it. There is no impediment to the solution -remember, one-party state. Instead, what wound up happening is, all of Tiburon, Mill Valley and the like bought generators and proceeded to charge their Teslas from said generators. Do it for the environment!

    I see a clear parallel to the “solution “ to the vaccination drive – redefine “essential “ to include “job creators “ because without them, society will surely fail. (And we live in a society.) This way, the problem is solved and after the properly prioritized people are vaccinated, it does not really matter what the pace of vaccination is. People in San Francisco are used to stepping over homeless people curled up in the doorway of the gleaming towers downtown. Does it really matter if some of these people are dead?

  13. Sara K.

    My parents in San Francisco got the first dose of the vaccine on January 26.

    Both of them are over 65 and under 75 and are Kaiser Permanente members. My father’s doctor sent him an email telling him that vaccination appointments were available (but my mother’s doctor sent no such email). Fortunately he checked the email almost immediately after it was sent. My mother said she spent about two hours on the phone waiting to book appointments for both of them. Their appointments were only half an hour apart, so they traveled together to the Kaiser hospital. The vaccination was done in a tent in the parking lot. My mother said that she felt that it was possible to keep a reasonable amount of distance from others inside the tent, and there was also a waiting area outside the tent. They actually got vaccinated earlier than their appointment times. There was a mixup with my mother’s vaccination card, but after the mixup was resolved, she said that it was very detailed, including the batch number for the Moderna vaccine she was given. After the injections, they were both able to schedule an appointment for the second dose on February 26 (the earliest available date). After they were done with the vaccinations, someone who my mother claims she had never seen before claimed to be her doctor and said that because she came she had to come into the hospital building for a checkup. My mother refused because she thought it was ridiculous bureaucracy and that entering the building increased her chances of infection. Someone (a doctor?) took a look at my father and said “he looks healthy.” They left quickly, without stepping inside the building.

    Overall, it went better for them than for many people, but things probably would not have worked out that way if my father’s doctor had not sent that email and if my parents had not reacted right away. My mother heard that, after the first day Kaiser opened vaccination appointments to members over 65, they filled up all their slots and stopped scheduling new appointments.

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