In many areas of California, it is going to take time and patience before residents over 65 years old have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Many cheered on Wednesday when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the age group was now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. Previously, only healthcare workers and residents and staff in long-term care settings qualified for the vaccine.
But shortly after Newsom’s announcement, some county health officials began pushing back against the claim that all residents 65 and older — a group of nearly 6 million individuals — were immediately eligible now for a coveted dose.
“Expanding the list of who is eligible for the vaccine does not get us more doses,” said Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Assn. of California. “It does not get us more vaccinators, or any of the other resources we need to effectively run our operations.”
What’s become clear in the day since Newsom’s announcement is that California needs a lot of vaccine and a lot better coordination and messaging.
Here are key points to know about the next phase of the rollout.
1. Vaccine is in short supply.
As of Tuesday, more than 2.8 million doses had been shipped to California, but less than one-third had been administered. There has been lower than expected demand from the healthcare and nursing home workers who have highest priority to receive the vaccines, with up to 40% declining the initial opportunity to be vaccinated.
While some counties are able to green-light the state’s guidance, others do not have either enough doses or the distribution capacity to do so — especially following the state’s previous expansion of the priority list last week.
In Santa Clara County, providers are ready to expand vaccine access to all adults 75 and older, but officials say that the county needs more doses. The county asked the state for 100,000 more doses, but was told this week it would receive only 6,000, said Dr. Jeff Smith, county executive.
2. There is still a line.
Some healthcare workers have declined to be vaccinated.
But there are still many first responders in the original tier who still need the vaccine. And that will remain a priority in many counties, which will delay how much vaccine immediately gets to the 65 and older group.
In Los Angeles, public health officials said people 65 and older won’t have access to the vaccine until the county finishes vaccinating frontline workers. The county plans to vaccinate 500,000 more healthcare workers by the end of January, but currently does not have enough doses to meet that goal.
“We’re not done with our healthcare workers,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Wednesday, adding that the county has asked the state for more doses. “We haven’t heard back from the state about vaccine availability and how it would be distributed.”
3. Logistic hurdles remain
Many counties are still putting together the process for how people can get vaccinated. Websites are still being updated with guidance for determining eligibility, and some people expressed frustration Wednesday about not getting the answers they needed.
Counties are also scrambling to find more vaccine doses, healthcare professionals who can administer the shots and large facilities where inoculations can be offered — officials are setting up vaccine centers at major attractions throughout the state, including Dodger Stadium and Disneyland. Vaccines are also available at some retail pharmacies and medical offices.
Officials have stressed that residents should check with their doctor or healthcare professional before getting a vaccine, and go directly to their local health department website for further information. It might take a bit of time before counties update their websites with the state’s new eligibility rules.
Some members of the state’s vaccine advisory committee expressed concern in a meeting Tuesday that, with the focus on age, individuals who might face other vulnerabilities could be lost in the shuffle.
Others have raised concern that at-risk individuals, including essential workers, could be overlooked as the doors open for a wider pool of eligible vaccine recipients.