As expected, the state of California Wedesday authorized immediate access to COVID-19 vaccines for residents aged 65 and older, following new guidance from the federal government, but Los Angeles County will continue to prioritize health care workers before making doses available to others.
"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 announcing the change in state guidance. "Individuals 65 and older are now the next group eligible to start receiving vaccines. To those not yet eligible for vaccines, your turn is coming. We are doing everything we can to bring more vaccine into the state."
Acting under recommendations initially developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states have given top priority to frontline health care workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Most states are still working to get the shots to health care workers, but the slow pace of administering the shots has led to calls to authorize more people to receive doses.
Federal authorities on Tuesday urged states to expand the availability of the vaccines and offer them to anyone 65 or older, and to people older than age 16 who have underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to serious illness from COVID.
The new state guidance addresses only people aged 65 and older. It does not advance eligibility among people with underlying health conditions.
Orange County on Tuesday announced that it would immediately offer the vaccines to people 65 and older, acting in advance of the state's revised guidance. Long Beach health officials announced Tuesday they will begin offering vaccines to residents 75 and older beginning Saturday, with clinics held weekly for people in that age group.
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county does not immediately have enough doses of the vaccine to expand the distribution to those 65 and older. She said the county's top priority remains getting health care workers vaccinated, with hopes of providing doses to another 500,000 such workers by the end of the month.
"We've asked the state to give us more vaccine so we can use some of other other partners ... to be able to open up for vaccinating those folks that are 65 and older quicker than the beginning of February, which is when we had planned to be able to complete health care workers and then move one," she said. "We haven't heard aback from the state about vaccine availability and how it would be distributed."
According to the state, a website is being set up for people to register for email notifications about when they will be eligible for shots. Los Angeles County already has an email system set up for people to sign up to receive updates on vaccine distribution. People can register at www.vaccinatelacounty.com.
Newsom said Monday the state has only administered about one-third of the nearly 2.5 million vaccine doses it has received so far. Some of the delay has been attributed to hesitance among some health care workers in the top Phase 1A priority list to be vaccinated, leading to suggestions that the doses should be offered more quickly to people in lower tiers of the eligibility list.
Ferrer said it will likely take until the end of January to finish vaccinating all health care workers listed in Phase 1A of the priority list. Once that phase is completed, the county will move to Phase 1B. The beginning of that phase will now include people 65 and over, along with select essential workers, such as those in education, child care, emergency services and food and agriculture -- in early February.
Younger residents with serious underlying health conditions are not eligible until Phase 1C, which Ferrer said would likely not begin until late March.
The changes come as several large-scale vaccination sites open in Southern California. Dodger Stadium will open later this week as a drive-thru vaccination facility -- for now reserved solely for health care workers. A Disneyland parking area in Anaheim and Petco Park in San Diego are also being used as vaccination clinics. The Long Beach Convention Center will also be used to administer vaccines.
The state had already loosened vaccine priorities once. Last week it authorized vaccines for all categories of health care workers included in Phase 1A of the prioritization plan, not just hospital and other frontline workers at the top of the list.