SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – California health officials announced COVID-19 vaccine eligibility would expand to all residents 50 and older starting April 1, and all residents 16 and up by the middle of next month.

“With vaccine supply increasing and by expanding eligibility to more Californians, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

Thursday’s announcement beats a directive set by President Joe Biden compelling states to expand COVID-19 vaccine availability to all adults by May 1.

During a briefing Thursday at a AltaMed Medical Group vaccination site in Orange County, Newsom touted the number of doses administered in California so far.

“Just 48 hours ago, we passed 15 million, 15 million administered doses. Now over 15 and a half million, closing in on 16 million doses,” Newsom said. “That’s close to 6 million more than any other state in the country. We are administering more doses than all but five other nations in the world.”

Newsom also announced that family members accompanying vaccine recipients may also receive a shot if the providers decide there is enough supply at the time, effective immediately.

“We also, today, are loosening the requirements to provide AltaMed and others the ability to use their discretion, effective today, regardless of your age, regardless of your pre-existing condition, if someone comes in eligible under the existing rules but with a family member, we will accommodate the family member, no questions asked. That flexibility is effective today as well,” the governor said.

According to Newsom’s office, the state expects its vaccine allocation to increase 2.5 million first and second doses per week during the first half of April, up from the current 1.8 million per week. By the end of April, officials expect the state’s allocation to increase further, to 3 million doses per week.

“This comes with the expectation of more manufactured supply. This comes with the expectation we’ll be going from about 1.8 million doses a week to about two and a half million doses in a number of weeks, and closer to three million as we move into May, June, and then the abundance that President Biden has spoken about,” the governor said.

While the number of available vaccine doses are expected to significantly rise over the next month, officials stressed that vaccinating all willing Californians would be a process that would take several months.

“We are even closer to putting this pandemic behind us with today’s announcement and with vaccine supplies expected to increase dramatically in the months ahead,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “However, we are not there yet. It will take time to vaccinate all eligible Californians.”

Bay Area residents KPIX spoke with Thursday were happy to hear about the expanded eligibility, even though they were already receiving their vaccines.

“I am so excited,” said Jackie Lopresti after getting her first shot at Diablo Valley College. “I’ve been waiting for this day forever. So thank you Contra Costa! This was very well run today. It was amazing.”

As of Thursday, 40% of Contra Costa residents 16 and older have gotten at least one shot. San Francisco just passed 40% as well.

“I’m extremely excited,” said Vinny Vance as he was leaving the vaccination site at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. “I’m grinning like a fool under this mask.”

For weeks, Santa Clara County leaders have said they don’t have enough doses of the COVID vaccines for all of the people who are currently eligible and have even been forced to cancel appointments at some vaccine sites.

“Levi’s has a capacity of 15,000 doses a day, and we’ve only had a trickle of that available,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib with the Santa Clara County Health Department.

During a press conference Thursday, Dr. Fenstersheibsay said the county is ready to get shots in the arms of all of those who are becoming eligible in the coming days and weeks. Now, all they need is supply.

“We have the capacity to vaccinate over 200,000 people a week in our county, and we’re doing probably a third of that,” said Dr. Fenstersheib.

In Santa Clara County, there are 400,000 residents between the ages of 50 and 64 who will become eligible for a shot starting April 1 and another 1.2 million who are 16 or older who can get a vaccine starting April 15.

It is an odd moment in the vaccine campaign. While we continue to hear about shortages, it’s getting very easy to find people who are getting shots.

“My peer group, I’m way behind a lot of people,” said Vance.

“I’ve been hearing other people, like my mom has gotten it,” said Pleasant Hill resident Megan Loforte. “My brother, friends, co-workers have gotten the vaccine. So everyone’s starting to get it now.”

For anyone feeling left out or getting impatient, just remember: not long ago a lot of experts were predicting widespread vaccine availability wouldn’t come until summer.

“Six months ago, the virus was deciding what it was going to do to us,” said UC Berkeley Dr. John Swartzberg. “Today, we’re deciding what we are going to do to this virus.”

The mid-April supply surge will come ahead of schedule. By then, more 20 million Californians will already be vaccinated. The era of vaccine scarcity is almost over.

“Now we’re getting to the point when there’s enough vaccine,” said Swartzberg. “And I’m really interested in getting that vaccine in everyone’s arms as quickly as possible.”

 

Wilson Walker and Katie Nielsen contributed to this story.