California leaders are facing mounting pressure to speed up distribution of the new coronavirus vaccine, announcing major steps this week to makes doses available to more people.
On Wednesday the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, said that all residents 65 and older will be able to get a vaccine. The move follows the announcement of new mass-vaccination sites at locations such as Disneyland and Dodger Stadium.
Despite high hopes, the state’s vaccine rollout program has been painfully slow. California has received the most doses of any state in the country, but currently ranks in the bottom 10 states for doses administered per 100,000 people.
Here’s what you need to know about who is getting the Covid-19 vaccine in California, and when:
What’s happened so far?
California has so far received more than 3.4m doses – about 12% of the country’s total doses – but administered 891,489, just more than a quarter of its supply.
Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, has come under fire for the slow rollout. The state had initially issued stringent, tiered guidelines for who qualified for vaccines – in part to prevent obscenely wealthy Californians, of which there are many, from cutting in line before others. California has since had to ease those guidelines.
“The idea that our tiering and phases has slowed us down … we have certainly begun to address that,” Dr Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services.
Then on Tuesday, the federal government put the state’s tiered framework in question again when it directed governors to begin vaccinating anyone 65 or older. Newsom announced Wednesday that the 6.6 million Californians who are 65 or older are now eligible for a vaccine.
Health officers have described complicated directives from the state to the county over who was approved to administer the vaccines, which the state has since worked to correct by authorizing pharmacists, dentists, paramedics and national guard strike teams to do the job. Technical problems with a software program used by the state to coordinate distribution also contributed to the slowdown.
Who is eligible for the vaccine now?
California is currently in the first phase of its vaccine rollout and focusing on “vaccinating the vaccinators,” according to Newsom. The 3 million estimated Californians eligible for the vaccine in this tier are healthcare workers and long-term care residents.
There are three tiers of within this phase, known as Phase1A, with healthcare workers at acute care hospitals, oncology centers, residential treatment facilities and psychiatric hospitals in tier 1. Public health field staff, urgent care workers and home healthcare workers fall under tier 2 while dental workers, Covid-19 testers and chiropractors fall under tier 3. Those 65 and older also qualify.
Newsom has also announced a new system to let people know if they are eligible to receive a vaccine, to start next week.
If residents are not yet eligible, the system will allow them to register for a text or email notification when they are.
When will the first group all be vaccinated?
Health officials were estimating that everyone in Phase1A will have at least received their first dose of the vaccine by early February at the latest, but with Californians who are 65 and older now qualifying for a vaccine, the deadline will most likely be extended.
As with the rest of the country, Phase1A Californians began receiving vaccinations in mid-December.
Phase1B is for Californians at risk of exposure at work. This phase has two tiers: tier 1 is for those working in childcare, education, emergency services or food and agriculture, and tier 2 is for those working in critical manufacturing, transportation and logistics, or industrial, commercial, residential, and sheltering facilities and services.
Tier 2 also applies to those living in congregate settings with high risk of outbreak such as prisons or homeless shelters. Tens of thousands have tested positive in California’s overcrowded prisons, and homeless shelters across the state were forced to cut capacity to comply with social distancing.
Phase1B was expected to being in early February and finish by late March. Again, time tables will change with the new directives.
Will anybody else get vaccinated?
Phase1C is the last group that the state has identified. This includes Californians between 50 and 64, and Californians between 16 and 49 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk.
The Californians who can get vaccinated under Phase1C also those who risk exposure at work in water and water, defense, energy, chemical and hazardous materials, communications and IT, financial services or government and community-based operations.
This phase was expected to begin in late March and end in early May. Phase 2 – and when the vaccine will become available to any Californian – is still up in the air.
These guidelines still seem pretty strict. How did the state ease them?
The new guidelines allow for vaccines to go to people in lower-tier groups if there is a risk of the vaccine expiring. So if they can’t find a healthcare worker for a vaccine nearing expiration, it can go to a teacher or food or agriculture worker.
What else is the state doing to speed things up?
Across the state, mass vaccinations sites are opening as part of a goal to administer 1m more doses by the weekend.
Orange county officials said that the Disneyland resort, located in Anaheim, would become the first of five “super point-of-dispensing” (super POD) locations with a capacity to vaccinate thousands of people every day.
Alongside Disneyland, the state is also planning to transform baseball stadiums and fairgrounds into vaccination hubs – including Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Petco Park in San Diego and the CalExpo fairgrounds in Sacramento. In the Bay Area, the Oakland Coliseum and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara are also being considered as mass vaccination sites.
The Associated Press contributed reporting