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California to expand vaccine eligibility to millions with pre-existing conditions

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A health care worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Las Mesa, California, on February 11.
A health care worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Las Mesa, California, on February 11. Bing Guan/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The US state of California is adding millions of people to its Covid-19 vaccination priority list, including residents “at high risk with developmental and other disabilities” and those with “serious underlying health conditions.”

The plan, outlined by state health officials in a briefing Friday, will begin March 15 and allow cancer patients, pregnant women, and other disabled individuals to join health care workers, seniors, teachers, and farm staff in line for a vaccine. The expansion could add as many as 6 million more Californians to the priority list.

It also broadens the ages from 65 and over to ages 16 to 64 in those categories.

California Health and Human Service Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters the March 15 start will give officials time to work out details on how to get vaccines to those with various disabilities and could include at-home visits.

Ghaly acknowledged the timing could be optimistic, cautioning “we are still dealing with the scarcity of vaccine. This week the drastic shortfall of vaccines in the state led to the closure of the mass vaccination centers in Los Angeles.”

The expanded list of those eligible includes people with cancer, chronic kidney disease, oxygen-dependent heart disease, Down Syndrome, immune-suppressed organ transplant recipients, pregnant women, people with sickle cell disease, severe obesity and certain type-2 diabetes.

Ghaly expressed concern about the inequity of distribution among communities of color and low-income areas. There are plans to reach out to community clinics, public health systems and what they’re calling “trusted messengers in communities that data shows are reluctant to get vaccinated.”

Senior state health officials acknowledged complaints from rural counties that they have not been given their fair share of vaccines. However, officials say these areas have historically been medically underserved and much of the early distribution was in areas with high numbers of medical workers.

Officials say the focus will now be shifting to rural areas in California’s agricultural community, which has been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic.

Officials also believe a focus on Californians with development disabilities and severe underlying conditions will allow more vaccinations in vulnerable settings, like jails, homeless shelters and areas where homeless reside.

The state estimates 13 million Californians are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, including 3 million health care workers, 3.4 million food and agricultural workers, 1.4 million in the education sector, a million in emergency services and more than 6 million people over the age of 65.



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