On Tuesday, California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced a big shift in who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine will come into effect on Wednesday.
At the urging of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as health officials in the Trump Administration, to expand their early recommendations for the vaccine to include older people above the age of 65 with underlying health conditions, California will now make the vaccine available sooner to those who qualify under those conditions.
“Those communications have already begun and will go throughout the day so we can evaluate the new federal guidance, determine how it’s going to impact what we do here in California and – with haste without delay – getting that updated guidance out,” Ghaly explained on Tuesday. “I expect that will come in the next 24 hours or so, so we can let all Californians benefit.”
While it won’t be released until Wednesday when Californians age 65 and over with underlying health conditions will be replaced on the priority list, they likely won’t supersede phase 1A of the state priority list, which includes all health care workers.
However, many will receive a bump in prioritization phases largely due to the slow rollout. Federal health officials have been concerned about the slow pace of vaccinations in many states, including California where only 1/3rd of the total number of vaccines have been utilized so far. A loosening of phase 1A restrictions, expanding the pool from having only frontline health care and hospital workers to including all health care workers, has failed to significantly quicken the pace of vaccinations since last week. Dr. Ghaly admitted that the vaccination process has been slow in California on Tuesday, noting that the numerous safety and risk measures being taken have been a partial cause in the tardiness.
“Part of the process that we have set up here in California — really thoughtful trying to focus on risk and exposure and equity — has led to some delays in getting the vaccine out into our communities,” added Ghaly. “We look forward with additional vaccine to really doing more in this space than we’ve done already.”
Prepping for an increased rollout
California, as well as many counties, have already been preparing for an increased rollout. Many stadiums, fairgrounds, and even theme parks are being temporarily reutilized as large vaccine centers in preparation of a larger rollout and more phases being open for vaccinations. However, even if vaccines do get a quicker rollout, health officials such as Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer have noted that phase 1A likely won’t end until the end of January. Phase 1B, which includes all people over 75 and essential workers, will only begin in February. Those 65 or above who don’t meet the health conditions for phase replacement on Wednesday may have to wait until March.
John Ramos, a Los Angeles-area health care worker who has been assisting vaccinating people in phase 1A, said that more people being eligible sooner is what the state should have planned in the first place.
“We need to get those most vulnerable and those at the greatest risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19,” stated Ramos to the Globe. “Giving people 65 and over with health conditions an earlier vaccination is what we’ve needed to do, especially since we’re behind administrating vaccines.”
“The goal in the phases is to save as many lives as possible. And this decision by [Ghaly] does that. As long as it doesn’t take any away from healthcare workers, because we seriously need as many as we can get right now. I don’t think that you’ll find a doctor or nurse or anyone against this.”
In addition to the new phase scheduling, Dr. Ghaly also noted that, over the last two weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased by 5.5%, with the number of cases in California nearing 2.75 million. The number of COVID-19-related deaths also hit a new milestone with over 30,000 deaths being reported on Tuesday. While the overall rate has slowed down, other rates, such as ICU admissions, have also continued to climb.
“We are not out of the woods,” said Ghaly.