In an effort to ramp a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout, California is allowing everyone 65 and older to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, officials announced Wednesday.
“There is no higher priority than efficiently and equitably distributing these vaccines as quickly as possible to those who face the gravest consequences,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “Individuals 65 and older are now the next group eligible to start receiving vaccines.”
But vaccine supplies remain scarce and health care workers and long-term care residents still have the highest priority to receive the shots.
The major expansion of vaccine eligibility in the state comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced changes to its vaccine distribution plan, which also included providing the vaccine to those 65 and older — a group at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Orange County was first in the state to announce expanding the vaccine to older residents following the CDC’s changes. Los Angeles County’s health director said the county will not immediately begin vaccinating those 65 and older since there are hundreds of thousands of health care workers that have yet to be vaccinated.
A statement from the California Department of Public Health didn’t provide guidance on where those 65 and older can get their doses, and there’s currently no statewide registry to sign-up for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The state’s COVID-19 website says health care workers should contact their employers and residents of long-term care facilities should speak to their caretakers to get the vaccine. “Everyone else should coordinate with their healthcare providers,” the website states.
Meanwhile, L.A. County’s vaccine appointment sign-up portal displayed a message Wednesday telling people not to sign up if they’re not health care workers who have contact with patients or infectious materials.
“To those not yet eligible for vaccines, your turn is coming,” Newsom said. “We are doing everything we can to bring more vaccine into the state.”
Next week, the state will launch a new system to let people know if they are eligible to receive a vaccine or sign up to get a notification when they are, the state health department also announced Wednesday.
As a next step, the system will help residents schedule appointments at mass vaccination sites statewide, according to CDPH.
The state estimates that members of the general public not currently prioritized in the vaccine plan will receive their doses in Spring 2021 and they’ll likely get them at doctor’s offices, clinics or pharmacies.
Newsom last week said only about 1% of California’s 40 million residents had been vaccinated against the coronavirus and that the pace of immunization is “not good enough.”
He set a goal of vaccinating 1 million additional people by the end of this week — still just a tiny fraction of the state’s residents but more than double the 454,000 people that had been vaccinated at that point.
To do that, the state got another 100,000 health care professionals to help with inoculation efforts, calling on dentists and pharmacy technicians to administer COVID-19 vaccines, officials said.
Also, state officials told local public health departments and providers last week to vaccinate lower priority groups when demand subsides or when doses are about to expire.
That meant that in addition to frontline health care workers, people working in primary care clinics, specialty clinics, laboratories, dental clinics and pharmacies, and others could also get the vaccine.
And if more doses remain, local health officials can move on to vaccinating groups in the next tier, while still continuing to offer vaccines to those in higher priority groups, CDPH officials said.
As of Monday, a total of 816,673 vaccine doses had been administered statewide, according to state officials.
Vaccination efforts are under way as California’s hospitals feels the crush of a major, unprecedented virus surge that has seen coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations skyrocket in recent weeks.
“With our hospitals crowded and ICUs full, we need to focus on vaccinating Californians who are at highest risk of becoming hospitalized to alleviate stress on our health care facilities,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state’s public health officer, said in the statement. “Prioritizing individuals age 65 and older will reduce hospitalizations and save lives.”