California Is Expanding Vaccine to Ages 50 and Up, Followed by 16 and Up

California will expand vaccine eligibility for people ages 50 and older beginning April 1, with all individuals 16 and older becoming eligible April 15.

In "just a few weeks, there will be no rules, no limitations as it relates to the ability to get a vaccine administered," Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a press briefing Thursday. "April 1, everyone 50 and over, April 15, everybody 16 and over."

He added that effective immediately, clinics could offer shots to family members who take eligible relatives to be vaccinated, with "no questions asked" about their own eligibility.

"If someone comes in eligible under the existing rules, but with a family member, we will accommodate the family member," Newsom said.

Still, even with increased supply, “vaccination of willing Californians will take several months,” the state said in a press release.

The state expects to receive about 2.5 million first and second doses per week in the first half of April, increasing to over 3 million in the second half. That's up from about 1.8 million per week currently.

California hopes to have the capacity to administer 4 million vaccines each week by the end of April.

“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 Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly in a statement. "However, we are not there yet. It will take time to vaccinate all eligible Californians. During this time, we must not let our guard down. It is important that we remain vigilant, continue to wear masks and follow public health guidance."

In the Bay Area, Contra Costa and Solano counties have already moved to letting people 50 and over make vaccine appointments.

You can watch the governor's news conference here. "I hope this is coming as positive news for those that have been waiting their turn," said Newsom Thursday, ending his prepared remarks. "And by the way, that includes myself. I will be eligible after next Thursday. And I look forward to getting the best shot. And the best vaccine is the next one available, whatever that vaccine is."

Also on Thursday, President Biden opened his first formal news conference by doubling his original goal on COVID-19 vaccines by pledging that the nation will administer 200 million doses by the end of his first 100 days in office. The administration had met Biden’s initial goal of 100 million doses earlier this month — before even his 60th day in office.

While seemingly ambitious, Biden’s vaccine goal amounts to a continuation of the existing pace of vaccinations through the end of next month. The U.S. is now averaging about 2.5 million doses per day and an even greater rate is possible. Over the next month, two of the bottlenecks to getting Americans vaccinated are set to ease as the U.S. supply of vaccines is on track to increase and states lift eligibility requirements to get shots.

Kevin Stark, Jon Brooks and the Associated Press

Bay Area Looks Ahead to Vaccinating 12-to-15-Year-Olds

On the heels of the Food and Drug Administration taking the first step Monday toward expanding emergency use of Pfizer's COVID vaccine for 12-to-15-year-olds, Bay Area health officials are gearing up for another round of shots.

COVID case rates keep falling around the state, yet outbreaks are still occurring. In Sonoma County, younger people have been contracting the coronavirus, which have been traced back to social gatherings and sports events, according to Dr. Urmila Shende, who heads the county’s Vaccine Mission Program.

Shende is excited to start getting tweens and teens vaccinated, at school clinics, health centers and pharmacies. She says even though young people fare better after becoming infected, serious consequences can still result. They may infect other unvaccinated people in the community, for instance.

"And somebody within that group may end up having a very bad outcome," Shende said. "This is the issue with COVID. You never know what’s going to happen."

Dr. Ann Petru, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, says reaching herd immunity without vaccinating this younger group would be difficult.

"You know, a lot of them are out playing and hanging out. You see them wearing no mask and out skateboarding," she said.

Petru says the data shows the Pfizer vaccine is safe and the side effects minimal.

State health officials say they are waiting to hear what the CDC’s safety review group says at a Wednesday meeting about expanding the vaccine for use in 12-to-15-year-olds. Then,  the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup,  created by California, Nevada, Washington and Oregon to review vaccine research, will assess the data and issue a recommendation. If the workgroup gives the go-ahead, several Bay Area counties say, they will start administering the vaccine.

Polly Stryker and Jon Brooks

San Francisco Teachers Union: Deal Reached to Bring High School Seniors Back

The San Francisco teachers union says it reached an agreement Friday on bringing high school seniors back into classrooms starting May 14.

United Educators of San Francisco President Susan Solomon said in a statement that the union made the proposal to the San Francisco Unified School District so that graduating students "would have the opportunity to spend some time in-person on campus with teachers and their peers during their last few weeks of high school ... ."

Solomon says the union is currently surveying its teachers for volunteers to come in for the newly opened classes. "Though the survey is still open, we already know that there are enough educators who have stepped up to make this return happen," Solomon said. "We are looking forward to seeing our students in person."

The last day of the school year is Wednesday, June 2. The school district has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Currently, only San Francisco public elementary schools are open to all students for in-person learning. Middle and high schools have only brought back what the district calls "priority populations," including newcomer and homeless students, foster youth, students in public housing and those who have been languishing by showing limited engagement during remote learning.

After a highly contentious year in which the Board of Education was perceived to have been dragging its feet on reopening by some parents, the school board passed a resolution in April to bring all students back full time in the fall, and the district is now looking to hire a consultant to make that happen.

Jon Brooks

Los Angeles Offering Walk-In Vaccine Appointments

Los Angeles residents will no longer need an appointment for COVID-19 vaccinations at city-run inoculation sites, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Sunday.

The city is prepared to administer over a quarter million vaccinations for the second week in a row, the mayor's office said.

Last week, Los Angeles stopped requiring appointments for some walk-up and mobile locations. Starting Monday, appointment-free options are available at all vaccination sites. People can still sign up ahead of time if they prefer.

“We stand at a critical juncture in our fight to end this pandemic, and our City will keep doing everything possible to knock down barriers to vaccine access and deliver doses directly to all Angelenos,” Garcetti said in a statement.

In addition, the city will provide nighttime appointments at three locations so residents can get vaccinated after work, officials said. At the city’s first night clinic last week, 62% of first doses were given out after 2 p.m., Garcetti’s office said.

So far, 48.4% of Los Angeles County residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 34.8% are fully vaccinated, according to the Los Angeles Times’ vaccination tracker.

The Associated Press

Newsom's Use of Emergency Powers Upheld by State Appeals Court

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s use of emergency powers to make far-reaching policies during the pandemic was upheld Wednesday by state appellate judges who rejected a lower court finding that the Democrat had done too much unilaterally.

Three judges from the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento ruled unanimously that the prior judge “erred in interpreting the Emergency Services Act to prohibit the Governor from issuing quasi-legislative orders in an emergency."

“We conclude the issuance of such orders did not constitute an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power,” Presiding Justice Vance Raye wrote in ruling on a lawsuit brought by Republican state legislators.

The court already had stayed the earlier ruling by Sutter County Superior Court Judge Sarah Heckman that Newsom unconstitutionally usurped the Legislature’s power.

Heckman more broadly issued an injunction — which also had been temporarily halted by the appeals court — barring Newsom from issuing any orders under the California Emergency Services Act that amended state laws or legislative policy.

Newsom did so dozens of times during the pandemic in what amounted to one-man rule, Assemblymen James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley said.

The appeals court said the lower court rulings raised “matters of great public concern regarding the Governor’s orders in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic emergency” but agreed with the governor’s contention that he acted within the broad emergency authority granted him under state law in times of crisis.

The appeals court relied on a section of the law that says the governor shall “have complete authority over all agencies of the state government and the right to exercise within the area designated all police power vested in the state by the Constitution and laws of the State of California.”

Kiley and Gallagher said they would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide lockdown order in March 2020 and followed up with a torrent of executive orders, acting unilaterally on everything from halting evictions to allowing marriages to be conducted by video or teleconference.

He also suspended school deadlines, gave consumers and businesses more time to pay taxes, changed the rules for public meetings, suspended medical privacy rules, and allowed grocery stores to hand out free single-use bags, among many other changes.

The lawsuit itself centered on just one executive order requiring election officials to open hundreds of locations statewide where voters could cast ballots, despite the potential health risk.

Read the full story.

Don Thompson, Associated Press

Walk-In Vaccination Appointments Available at Bay Area Walmarts

Walmart and its subsidiary Sam's Club will provide COVID-19 vaccinations to anyone who walks in or schedules an appointment at their pharmacy locations across the U.S.

More than two dozen of the stores are located in the Bay Area.

Vaccine supplies have surged even as eligibility has widened to people 16 and older.

"Widespread vaccination is the only way we will eventually end the pandemic and help our country reopen, and we don't want anyone to get left behind as we enter this new chapter in our fight against COVID-19," said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, who oversees Walmart's health and wellness unit. She said the company should prioritize distributing the vaccine to underserved and vulnerable populations.

—Bay City News and KQED News

Oakland Coliseum Vaccination Site Shutting Down as Demand Plummets

In another sign of improving times, the Oakland Coliseum's mass vaccination site will close May 23.

Alameda County and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services say the site is shutting down amid a huge drop in demand for COVID  vaccines, which have been so effective that California is planning to end most of its pandemic restrictions on June 15.

Requests for appointments at the Coliseum site have gone from 4,000 to 400 per day, according to the county.

As of May 4, 72% of county residents 16 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 47% have been fully vaccinated.

CalOES opened the Coliseum site Feb. 15 in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The state will hand off the site to Alameda County on May 10 so that second doses can be administered, followed by a full closure two weeks later.

The county says it is now changing its inoculation strategy to "meet people where they" are in offering access to vaccines by providing "localized options."

"We can now shift our resources into additional focused efforts that will reach residents who are more comfortable receiving their vaccines from trusted community partners and deploying our resources deeply into the communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic," said Colleen Chawla, the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency director, in a press release.

Other vaccine sites in the county besides the Coliseum include the Buchanan parking lot at Golden Gate Fields, the Alameda County Fairgrounds, and Fremont High School in Fruitvale.

Alameda County residents not yet vaccinated can make an appointment by calling 510-208-4VAX or by signing up online. Some CVS pharmacies are also now offering walk-in appointments.

Jon Brooks

Some CVS Pharmacies Now Offering Walk-In Vaccinations

Once precious vaccination appointments appear to be more plentiful by the day. For instance, you can now get a COVID vaccine without an appointment at any CVS pharmacy that offers them, the company announced Wednesday.

More than 1,100 locations in California offer the vaccine, CVS says. Same-day scheduling for appointments, within one hour in some cases, is also available.

As of May 3, more than 13 million people in the state, nearly 42% of those eligible, have been fully vaccinated, and an additional 6 million have received one shot and are waiting for a second.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the daily number of vaccine doses administered in the state has been steadily falling for the last few weeks, with a steeper drop coming in May.

-Jon Brooks