SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — California announced Wednesday it is expanding current eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to include residents aged 65 and older.

The state announced the decision the day after the CDC announced changes to its vaccine plan. Among the updates was a plant to make more of the coronavirus vaccine supply available to all states. With the increase in vaccine, the federal government encouraged states to expand the pool of those eligible to receive the vaccine to individuals 65 and older.

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“There is no higher priority than efficiently and equitably distributing these vaccines as quickly as possible to those who face the gravest consequences,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “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.”

State Health officials hope the inclusion of 65-year-olds and up for vaccinations will speed up the distribution. As of Monday, 816,673 coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered to health care workers and nursing home staff and residents, according to state officials.

While the state is rolling out vaccine doses in phases, targeting the most at-risk demographics first, new guidance Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged states to begin vaccinating everyone age 65 and up — rather than segmenting them depending on whether they have underlying medical conditions. Roughly 15% of the state’s population is older than 65, according to 2019 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We believe that having more vaccines, inviting more to be vaccinated will allow California to go faster and quicker through our population and get that vaccine out of our freezers and into our populations to get that protection,” HHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

Ghaly noted that the state’s vaccination rollout has been somewhat tempered so far due to a general lack of available doses as well as a limited number of medical professionals licensed to administer vaccine doses.

Both of those are expected to change in the coming days, however, with state and local public health officials collaborating to establish large-scale drive-thru coronavirus vaccination sites at sports stadiums like Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and the Oakland Coliseum as well as Cal Expo in Sacramento and Disneyland.

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In addition, the state is recruiting additional medical practitioners such as pharmacists and dentists as well as the National Guard to increase the administration of vaccine doses.

Prior to the new CDC guidance, the state planned to expand its vaccination pool this month to people age 75 and older as well as education and child care, emergency services, food and agriculture workers.

Those groups are still expected to begin receiving vaccine doses in the coming weeks in addition to those over 65, assuming the state’s vaccine distribution working group expands the vaccination pool.

According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, California is one of the 40 states that are still in the very beginning of the initial “1-A” phase of vaccination distribution focused on inoculating health care workers and people in long-term care facilities.

Newsom also announced that the state will be releasing a new opt-in notification tool so residents can learn when they’re eligible for the vaccine. That will launch next week.

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To date, nearly 2.5 million vaccine doses have been shipped to California’s local health departments and health care systems, according to state officials.

Ghaly said that figure is still well behind what the state had hoped for by now.

“The truth is, with such limited supply of vaccine and little bit coming into the state, we continue to look at ways that our structure allows us to get vaccine out to those populations as quickly as possible while still allowing us to, unimpeded, finish the vaccine that we’ve already received,” Ghaly said.

According to Ghaly, in addition to the more than 800,000 doses administered, roughly 99,000 state residents have received both doses of the vaccine required to build immunity.

While California is ready to move on to vaccinate people 65 and older, those vaccinations will not start happening immediately. In Santa Clara County, health officials said the county doesn’t have enough vaccine to expand past the 75 age group. Contra Costa County health officials acknowledged they are in the same spot. So the current guidance will remain for now.

“We hope to be in a position to do that as well, as soon as we get more vaccine supply here locally,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams.

“People should go to their provider to get vaccinated,”  he added.

So far, the vaccination effort is multi-layered, and has been hardly straightforward.

“You know, we have some of the entities that are doing some of the vaccinations like hospitals maybe in a single county, others may be multi-jurisdictional like Kaiser,” said UC Berkeley epidemiology professor Art Reingold. “We have the drugstores that have been authorized to do some of the vaccinating. It’s really complex.”

So even with California technically expanding to the 65+ age group, getting all of the pieces in place to make that happen will take more time. Mass vaccinations at pharmacies, for example, are still weeks or months away, but for older residents, the clock may be speeding up.

“We just assumed that because we are grandparents, and I’m 72 years old, my husband and 70,” said Martinez resident Deanne Bourne. “That even though we’re healthy we probably wouldn’t get vaccinated until maybe March.”

 

Wilson Walker contributed to this report.

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