COVID Vaccines Open for Californians 16 and Older April 15

Originally published on March 25

Making a major stride in the fight against the pandemic, California will open COVID-19 vaccination appointments to everyone 16 and older April 15 — two weeks sooner than expected.

All Californians age 50 and up can get vaccinated even earlier: the first of next month. And starting immediately, family members of people eligible for vaccines can get shots as well, in certain prioritized, hard-hit communities.

The news comes as hospitalizations in the state hit a new low not seen since April of last year and as many businesses gradually return to life. Gov. Gavin Newsom said California is well on its way to reaching a “green tier” that would allow the economy to reopen.

“(In) just a few weeks, there will be no rules, no limitations as it relates to the ability to get a vaccine administered,” Newsom said.

But it’s likely to take several months to vaccinate everyone who wants a shot, and vaccination efforts already have been plagued by delays and confusion. Underscoring the need to move quickly, Santa Clara County reported a new COVID-19 variant Thursday.

Even though Newsom assured Californians that supply will ramp up in the coming weeks, some Bay Area counties continue to struggle with a shortage of doses — leading them to worry what will happen when the flood gates are thrown open and everyone is vying for limited vaccination appointments.

“There will be problems,” said John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of infectious disease and vaccinology with the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. “It will be very frustrating for people who really need it much more than a 16 or 18-year-old or 20-year-old who haven’t been able to get it. They’re going to be very frustrated. But you can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good here.”

There are 400,000 people age 50 to 64 in Santa Clara County — all of whom will be eligible starting April 1, said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer.

“We are concerned beginning next week on April 1, when we add that additional 400,000 people, that we don’t have the vaccine,” he said. “So we really just want to caution people to please continue to be patient.”

Officials learned this week that the first case of the P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil, has been confirmed in Santa Clara County. The patient was tested in mid-March after traveling out of state, Fenstersheib said.

But even as variants remain a concern, hospitalizations continue to drop. On Wednesday, 2,826 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in California — the fewest since April.

In another note of optimism, President Joe Biden doubled his original COVID vaccine goal Thursday, promising the country will administer 200 million shots by the end of his first 100 days in office. He reached his initial 100 million goal before he’d been in office 60 days.

Vaccinations should ramp up in California as well. The state is set to receive about 2.5 million shots per week in the first half of April and more than 3 million doses per week in the second half of the month, Newsom said. That’s up from the 1.8 million doses the state currently receives each week.

The state has the capacity to administer more than 3 million doses per week now and expects to be able to administer 4 million per week by the end of April.

“Our only constraint is manufactured supply,” Newsom said.

In Santa Clara County, the Levi’s Stadium vaccination site has the capacity to administer up to 15,000 doses per day. But the county has just “a trickle” of that available, Fenstersheib said.

Contra Costa County already opened COVID-19 vaccinations to people 50 and older Monday, and Solano County made the move last week.

San Mateo County expects to follow as soon as the new state guidelines allow but emphasized getting more doses will be key in ramping up vaccinations.

“The current supply constraints and limited advance notice make it more difficult to reach those with less flexibility in their work, care-giving, or personal responsibilities,” San Mateo County Health Chief Louise Rogers wrote in an emailed statement.

In certain California communities, if an eligible person shows up for a vaccine with a family member, that family member also now can receive a shot, no questions asked. That will work only in areas in the bottom half of the California Healthy Places Index, which ranks neighborhoods based on income, access to education, health care and transportation, and other factors.

Low-income, disadvantaged communities — particularly those with a high proportion of Latino residents — have been particularly hard-hit by the virus but haven’t been vaccinated at equal rates. Newsom is trying to change that by ramping up vaccines for people in the bottom 25% of the Healthy Places Index — a priority he said will remain intact even as the state opens vaccine eligibility.

The state has increased vaccinations in that bottom quartile by 30%, Newsom said. But he acknowledged it’s still not enough.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re mindful of that. We recognize we’re not even close to where we need to be.”

The new vaccine eligibility rules mean Newsom can get vaccinated next Thursday.

“I look forward to getting the best shot,” he said. “And the best vaccine is the next one available. Whatever that vaccine is. And I would encourage those of you that have not yet done so to take the time, go on the My Turn app, fill out the form, learn about the site and location that’s proximate to you and work through the scheduling.”


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