California Vaccine Distribution and You

Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered a disappointing message last week for anyone hoping to get a COVID-19 vaccine in 2020: the majority of Californians will likely have to wait to get vaccinated until the second half of 2021.

Though President Donald Trump has promised a vaccine in the coming weeks, the California Department of Public Health’s draft COVID-19 vaccination planning report pushes the general public into the last stages of its blueprint.

“Don’t anticipate or expect that you can go down to a local pharmacy anytime this year and get a vaccination,” Newsom said during an Oct. 19 press conference.

Though Moderna and Pfizer are optimistic they can produce a vaccine the end of the year, rolling out a vaccine to every corner of California will be a long, logistically challenging process.

To start, both vaccine candidates require cold storage, which demands dry ice and could make transportation to rural areas challenging. Health care professionals administering the vaccine will also need a list of personal protective equipment like needles, syringes, alcohol, pads, bandages and masks to safeguard themselves against infection. It’s also likely that the eventual vaccine will require two doses.

Even when that’s all handled, Newsom said the initial supply will cover only about 1 to 1.5 million Californians, a sliver of the roughly 40 million people who call the Golden State home.

“The limited doses will be for a limited number of people,” Newsom warned.

So where do you fall in the COVID-19 vaccine line?


First in queue would be health care professionals working directly with COVID-19 patients or at risk of exposure to the disease, according to the health department’s report.

These workers are part of the “Phase 1-A” portion, when vaccines are “initially scarce” and California has to “tightly focus vaccine administration.”

Even in this category, the department is prepared to divide these workers into subset groups, using guidance from the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

In “Phase 1-B,” Californians vulnerable to the worst of COVID-19 symptoms, including death, would be next in line.

These candidates must have “underlying medical conditions or other risk factors” or be at least 65 to qualify.

The list of conditions, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, might include cancer, heart conditions, immunocompromised conditions, obesity, Sickle cell disease or type 2 diabetes, among others.

Essential workers, such as child care workers and grocery store employees, could also be included during this stage.


In “Phase 2,” when a larger supply is available, the shots will be prioritized for at-risk people and essential workers who couldn’t get vaccinated during the first round.

Newsom said the department would also focus on certain populations who’ve been hard hit by COVID-19, including those in nursing homes, correctional facilities, those with disabilities and underserved Latino, Black and rural communities.

“Improving health equity will also occur by examining the demographic and social factors that contribute to the overall health disparities in California,” the department’s report notes, “such as racism, income, ageism, English proficiency, lack of access to healthcare, crowded housing, precarious employment, and discrimination related to disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and immigration status.”

It’s also possible that a regional surge could demand vaccine prioritization in a certain area, the report notes. Smaller groups of the general public could also start getting vaccinated depending on supply.


At this point, California will hit an “open access to vaccination” phase, when enough vaccines will be available for the entire population.

The health agency said it is working toward the “ultimate goal of high coverage rates for California’s 40 million people.”

Working with various state agencies, the department will also monitor vaccination rates and assess where there might be gaps in coverage in certain communities.

Newsom said he realistically anticipates this phase in the third quarter of next year.

“We are going to be, in 2021,” he added, “slogging our way through the distribution of millions and millions of these doses of vaccine.”


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