California has poured millions into health collabs with big tech, but is it paying off?

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Public health experts are concerned about California's reliance on big tech companies to help with its COVID-19 response, citing concerns such dependence could lead to a crumbling public health infrastructure, Kaiser Health News reported May 6.

California has spent millions on contracts with several big tech companies since the pandemic began. For example, the state has spent $93 million on the centralized vaccine clearinghouse Salesforce developed, which has been unpopular among Californians. The state also signed a $72 million no-bid contract with Google sister company Verily to expand COVID-19 testing, which it decided it will not renew. California's next no-bid contract to expand COVID-19 testing went to OptumServe and is now valued at $600 million.

Current and former public health officials told Kaiser Health News California's reliance on big tech companies to help with public health matters could leave state and local health departments unable to respond to future threats and crises.

"These are companies that are profit-driven, with shareholders. They’re not accountable to the public," Flojaune Cofer, PhD, a former epidemiologist for the state's public health department, told Kaiser Health News. "We can’t rely on them helicoptering in. What if next time it’s not in the interest of the business or it’s not profitable?"

Daniel Zingale, who advised healthcare policy for three California governors, echoed Dr. Cofer's concerns, saying "what is best for Google is not necessarily best for the people of California."

 

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