Beginning March 15, two groups of younger, high-risk Californians – people with disabilities and people with serious underlying diseases – can be vaccinated against the coronavirus, California officials said on Friday.
These groups include 4 to 6 million people, said California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. This increases the number of Californians eligible for vaccines to around 17 to 19 million by March 15.
Underlying conditions leading to vaccine approval on March 15 include cancer, chronic kidney disease stage 4 or higher, chronic lung disease, Down’s syndrome, a weakened immune system from an organ transplant, sickle cell disease, heart disease, severe obesity, and type 2 diabetes .
People are required to provide confirmation of their condition, but officials are still determining what exactly this will mean.
“I want the disabled community to know, we heard you, and we will do more and better to provide access despite the scarcity,” said Governor Gavin Newsom Friday morning as he visited the mass vaccination site at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.
Ghaly said the reason the two newly eligible groups are not being given immediate access is because vaccine supplies are still very limited and that it will take time to iron out details like the medical condition review. Not enough vaccine is already coming into the state to immunize everyone currently eligible under state guidelines – approximately 13 million healthcare workers, residents and nursing home workers, people 65 and over, and education, nutrition workers and agriculture emergency services. Some counties do not even vaccinate all eligible groups due to supply shortages.
“I’m grateful that you committed to a timeframe, and if you estimate the number to be that high (4 to 6 million more), it’s a very good sign,” said Andrew Imparato, who works in a government vaccination counseling service is a committee and is the executive director of Disability Rights California.
However, Imparato questioned the decision to wait until March 15th.
“If we can postpone that date when vaccine supplies increase, that would be my preference,” he said. “But today’s announcement is a big step forward on the February 2nd state.”
Newsom also said the state will release nationwide vaccination demographics for the first time on Friday afternoon.
“It’ll show what we’ve been previewing for some time: with the first allotment of vaccines, mostly going to health care workers, it’s not really representative of the state’s demographics,” Newsom said. “We need to work as a state to do more and better reach our various communities.”
At least four Bay Area counties have already released vaccination demographics in the past few weeks – Contra Costa, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara. The local data shows that white and Asian residents are currently vaccinated in significantly higher numbers than black and Latin American residents. Part of this is that the groups previously vaccinated – health workers, residents and nursing home workers, and people 65 and over – are disproportionately white and Asian, according to local health officials.
Rickey Fairley, a 67-year-old black man who lives in the Bayview Hunters Point area and works as a security officer at the de Young Museum, said he called his doctor a few months ago to learn more about how to get the coronavirus vaccine receives. But he never heard anything.
“Nobody knew what to do,” said Fairley, sounding annoyed.
Then, Friday morning, the day before his 68th birthday, Fairley unexpectedly received an email advising him that he could be vaccinated for free just a few blocks from his house without insurance.
He said he “jumped out of bed” and walked to the Southeast Health Center, where tents were set up outside and queues were looped around the block. Fairley was vaccinated shortly afterwards and called it “a blessing”.
“I feel much better. I’ll still be wearing my mask, but I’m a little more comfortable, ”he said. “I’m just happy to be vaccinated.”
The Chronicle’s authors, Nanette Asimov, Meghan Bobrowsky, and Michael Williams, contributed to this report.
Catherine Ho is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Cat_Ho