State officials announced Wednesday that people 65 and older will now be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, in the hopes of increasing distribution to those at higher risk of hospitalization.
“With our hospitals crowded and ICUs full, we need to focus on vaccinating Californians who are at highest risk of becoming hospitalized to alleviate stress on our health care facilities,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, Director of the California Department of Public Health and the state's public health officer in a press release. “Prioritizing individuals age 65 and older will reduce hospitalizations and save lives.”
The move puts seniors in line before emergency workers, teachers, childcare providers and food and agriculture workers even as counties complain they already don’t have enough doses to go around.
People in the top tier to receive the vaccine, health care workers and long-term care residents, will still be able to.
The change follows recommendations Tuesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it comes after members of a state advisory panel on Tuesday worried that adding seniors will inevitably delay vaccines for others.
Anthony Wright, executive director of the consumer health care advocacy group Health Access California, said he generally favored moving toward vaccinating older residents, the group most likely to be hospitalized and die of the coronavirus. But he was among those who said the expansion could further strain the state’s already delayed rollout of scarce vaccines.
“This is a very tough conversation about trade-offs,” he said.
Santa Clara County counsel James Williams said Wednesday the county now has enough vaccine for seniors age 75 and older. To extend vaccinations to those 65 and over, he said, "We hope to be in a position to do that as well as soon as we get more vaccine supply here locally."
Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County's health officer, was frustrated by the new guidance, worrying that younger seniors will take limited vaccination slots from the over-75 group, which he says is more vulnerable.
"The governor’s announcement has the effect of greatly increasing the number of people who believe they are currently eligible without having given us any additional vaccine to do that with."
Saying that aging “does not mean we’re abandoning our commitment” to those already in line for vaccines, the state advisory panel’s co-chairwoman, California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, said, “We are working together to solve multiple challenges at the same time.”
Coronavirus cases and deaths continue to climb in California, with the state crossing a threshold of more than 30,000 deaths from the virus this week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has come under scrutiny for what’s largely viewed as a slow vaccine rollout across the state. He set a goal last week of delivering 1 million doses by Friday, beyond the roughly 480,000 that had been administered by last week.
Newsom on Wednesday also announced a new notification system that will alert people by email or text when they are eligible to get vaccinated. That’s expected to launch next week.