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Health

Britain and Brazil coronavirus variants found in the Bay Area – San Francisco Chronicle

Two additional coronavirus variants have been discovered in the Bay Area, making even more urgent California’s commitment to a faster and more efficient distribution of vaccinations across the state.

The variants, which originated in Brazil and the United Kingdom and have spread to numerous countries, were identified in the Bay Area by scientists at Stanford University’s Clinical Virology Lab, spokeswoman Lisa Kim confirmed Sunday. She provided no information on the location of the infections but said they were reported to public health authorities on Thursday from samples “collected less than two weeks prior to reporting.”

The spread of the coronavirus mutations comes as California is turning over vaccine distribution to the Oakland-based health insurance company Blue Shield, with assistance from Kaiser Permanente, in an effort to speed up what has been among the slowest vaccination rollouts in the country.

The plans for a faster and more effective vaccine distribution, however, may be thwarted if Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland-based hospital and health insurance chain that counts nearly a quarter of Californians among its customers, cannot get vastly more vaccine than it has been able to procure.

Kaiser officials say they’re hopeful that their supply will grow now that the state has tapped Blue Shield and Kaiser to take over in a transition expected over the next few weeks.

“We need more vaccine to be available in the coming weeks, as we broaden vaccine prioritization from health care workers to people over 75 years of age and other eligible populations,” a Kaiser spokesperson said Sunday, a day after CEO Greg Adams told members that Kaiser has received “only a fraction of the vaccine needed to vaccinate” its health care workers and members.

“The work that we, Blue Shield, and the state are embarking on is squarely aimed at getting Californians vaccinated as quickly as the supply allows,” the spokesperson said in an email Sunday. He predicted progress and said that ultimately, success will rely “on increasing the amount of vaccine received in California.”

Asked whether the shortage of supply will impede Kaiser’s ability to aid in the statewide distribution, Darrel Ng of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine task force said Sunday, “The largest factor in any entity’s ability to get more vaccine is the overall supply of vaccines. California is constricted by the supply provided by the federal government.”

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist at UCSF, said the shortage may also be concerning as Kaiser and Blue Shield have responsibilities to their own patients.

“Whenever you have an organization that is not the government, that is not the Department of Public Health, in charge of the distribution, you’re going to have biases, whether or not you know it or not,” Chin-Hong said.

State officials have praised Blue Shield and Kaiser as experienced California nonprofits that can help the state face the nearly unprecedented health crisis and vaccinate its population toward a goal of resuming economic normality and reopening of schools.

Data released by the state over the weekend show that providers have sped up administering the vaccine doses they do receive from the state. More than 3.4 million shots have been administered, the data show. That represents about 72% of the more than 4.7 million doses the state has distributed to counties and providers. State officials caution that the numbers may not reflect the precise picture due to lag in reporting time.

Tatiana Sanchez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @TatianaYSanchez

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