Everyone aged 16 and over in the state of California will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine beginning April 15, with people 50 and up eligible April 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, pointing to an anticipated sharp rise in the availability of doses.
The state has been receiving roughly 1.8 million doses a week, but the state anticipates receiving 2.5 million weekly doses by early April, then more than 3 million per week by the end of that month.
“With vaccine supply increasing and by expanding eligibility to more Californians, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter,” Newsom said.
COVID-19 vaccine eligibility has been slowly expanding in the state in recent weeks. Most recently, eligibility was extended to people aged 16 and over with serious underlying health conditions that put them at risk of severe illness or death from COVID. An array of essential workers are already eligible for vaccines, such as teachers and food workers. Health care workers were the first to be given access to the vaccine, and everyone in the state aged 65 and over is already eligible.
Thursday’s announcement means everyone in the state aged 16 and up will be eligible for the shots in mid-April. However, it will still take months to provide the vaccines to everyone who wants one.
Los Angeles County officials have long lamented the lack of vaccine supply, receiving around 300,000 doses per week despite having the capacity to administer more than double that amount. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week that in anticipation of supply increasing dramatically by the end of April, the county has begun working with various providers to boost capacity for administering shots, possibly to give up to 1 million shots per week.
Newsom said the state will have the capacity to administer 4 million shots per week by the end of April.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn hailed the governor’s announcement.
“Make no mistake, this is huge news,” Hahn wrote on Twitter. “We just hit another major turning point in our fight against this virus. … The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter.”
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services director, said the announcement means “we are even closer to putting this pandemic behind us.”
“However, we are not there yet,” he said. “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.”
While the new expansion of vaccine eligibility will not occur until next week, some people might be able to get shots even earlier. The state announced that effective immediately, a “family member” accompanying a person receiving a vaccine in lower-income areas hard-hit by the pandemic may be able to receive the shot, depending on availability.
“We also today are loosening the requirement to provide (vaccine providers) the ability to use their discretion, effective today — regardless of your age, regardless of your pre-existing condition — if someone comes in eligible under the existing rules, but with a family member, we will accommodate the family member, no questions asked,” Newsom said. “The flexibility is effective today as well.”
In Long Beach, meanwhile, the Veterans Affairs Long Beach Health Care System announced it is providing vaccines to all enrolled veterans, regardless of age or other eligibility criteria.
“The change in criteria will make a significant impact on streamlining the process for both our veterans and our staff,” said Richard Beam, director of public and community affairs for the VA Long Beach Healthcare System. “The more veterans we can vaccinate, the quicker our communities can safely return to gathering and celebrating life.”