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What the changes in the California COVID-19 vaccine priority list mean for you

A healthworker in PPE prepares a vaccine for a motorist in a car.
COVID-19 vaccines are administered at the Forum in Inglewood on Jan. 19.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

It’s been slow going this week to get a vaccine in California.

With supplies limited, many parts of California have struggled to keep up with demand, in some cases saying appointments are full for the coming days.

Right now, officials are giving vaccinations only to long-term care facility staff and residents, health workers and those 65 and over. But there have been questions about who will come next. Gov. Gavin Newsom offered some clarity on that — though many questions still remain.

Q: What were the changes Newsom announced Monday?

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Newsom said the state would switch to an age-based eligibility approach. No details about the criteria were released Monday, but they could end up focusing on people over 50 first. It’s also unclear if there would be a special designation for those with preexisting conditions.

Q: Is this a change?

Yes. Under the original plan’s tier structure, Tier 2 workers in manufacturing, transportation and commercial and residential settings along with incarcerated people and homeless people would be prioritized.

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So essentially, Newsom is now prioritizing age over those specific cohorts.

Some groups have pushed for these changes. But some labor unions have criticized the changes, noting that essential workers are putting themselves at risk and should get vaccines as soon as possible. Disability rights groups say the changeup fails to prioritize those at highest risk for COVID-19 complications.

Q: When should someone expect to enter the next phase?

Last week, state officials said it could take until June to offer vaccinations to all those 65 and older. Los Angeles County estimated all residents might not be able to be vaccinated until 2022 unless more supply becomes available.

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State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said last week that the state is receiving 300,000 to 500,000 doses each week. In Los Angeles County, 500,000 doses would be needed per week in order to vaccinate all adults by mid-summer, chief science officer Dr. Paul Simon said Friday. But at the rate that the current allocation is going, efforts would continue well into 2022.

Q: What about teachers?

The state has said that individuals 65 and older and healthcare workers are the current priority, followed by teachers, workers in food and agriculture and emergency services. Currently, it remains uncertain when those groups could start to actively sign up for vaccinations. But it’s becoming clear that vaccinating teachers is the key to reopening schools to in-person learning.

This lack of clarity has led to growing anger as the school year slips away.

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Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) expressed frustration that educators are not being prioritized by the L.A. County Health Department even as teachers in Long Beach are scheduled for vaccines this week. Although Long Beach is part of L.A. County, it operates its own independent health agency. L.A. County health officials said Monday that there are simply too many people in high-priority categories who need vaccines and too few doses.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she hopes teachers in her jurisdiction could begin to be immunized in February or March, but that would depend on the vaccine supply. The last day of instruction for the current school year in Los Angeles is June 10.

L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner and the Los Angeles Teachers Union are essentially in agreement on the two critical points needed for school reopening: teacher vaccination and a significant drop in coronavirus infection rates in communities served by L.A. Unified.

Q: How has the vaccine rollout been going this week?

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Slow.

Some regions including L.A. County said they have filled appointments for the next few days and hope to begin offering more soon.

Officials warn that vaccines will be in short supply in part because people who already have received their first shot now need their second. That will reduce the number of doses available for people seeking their first vaccination. Officials have estimated that if L.A. County gets 140,000 new doses this week, those needing a second dose would get the lion’s share.

The weather is another factor. Strong winds and harsh weather conditions Monday forced the Orange County Health Care Agency to close its Disneyland vaccine supersite in Anaheim, turning away thousands of appointment holders for the third time since last week.

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“At 3:30 p.m. today, our Disneyland Super POD site closed due to safety concerns related to inclement weather,” read a tweet posted by the agency. “Everyone who had an appointment today, Jan. 25, at 3:30 p.m. or later will be rescheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 27 at the same time.”

The post referred viewers to the Othena.com website and smartphone app, which have experienced backlogs in recent weeks, as tens of thousands of Orange County residents clamor to book appointments for individuals older than 65 and other Phase 1A individuals.

Here are the basics:

Los Angeles County: Residents 65 and older can sign up for an appointment at the county Public Health Department’s website. Residents without computer access can call (833) 540-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. for assistance with reservations. The city of Los Angeles is also offering the vaccine to those 65 or older, through a different online portal. That website connects patients to mass-vaccination sites.

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Orange County: The county opened a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination site Saturday at Soka University in Aliso Viejo. The county launched its first vaccination center at Disneyland in Anaheim. Eventually, the county plans to operate five centers, which health officials say is key to their goal of getting all residents vaccinated by July 4. For now, only healthcare workers, residents of long-term-care facilities and people 65 and older are eligible to be vaccinated at the centers.

Ventura County: The county is offering vaccinations to residents 75 and older, who can sign up for appointments online or by calling (805) 477-7151.

Inland Empire: Information for Riverside County residents can be found at the Riverside University Health System, while San Bernardino County residents can consult the county’s website. Both counties are offering vaccines with various restrictions at multiple locations.


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