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California’s vaccine eligibility lags behind other states. Will that change soon?

A medical technician stands in a tent at an outdoor vaccination facility
An outdoor vaccination site set up in a tent at Kedren Community Health Center in South Los Angeles on Monday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

California has administered more than 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

That’s a lot. But in the nation’s most populous state, that’s still a fraction of the demand. And that means many who want to be vaccinated are still being turned away.

Eligibility lags

California is lagging behind some other states in expanding vaccine eligibility.

Alaska, West Virginia and Mississippi are vaccinating everyone ages 16 and older. Georgia, Arizona and Texas are following suit this month. Everyone 50 and above is eligible in Florida and New York, and Indiana and Ohio are vaccinating residents in their 40s.

Nearly half of all Californians are already eligible for the vaccine. That includes adults 65 and older, healthcare workers, educators, people who are incarcerated or living in homeless shelters, essential workers such as those in the food industry or emergency services, public transit workers and janitors, and residents 16 and older who have disabilities or underlying health conditions. This list is not exhaustive, though, as the state continues to refine specifications for who qualifies under the various categories.

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So when will that change?

Looking to May

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday he believes the state could make the shots available to everyone by early May.

“We’re anticipating within 5½ weeks where we can eliminate all of the tiering, so to speak, and make available vaccines to everybody across the spectrum because supply will exponentially increase,” Newsom said.

The governor didn’t elaborate on the timeline, but it dovetails with previous federal guidance as to the expected availability of, and access to, the vaccines.

President Biden said last week that restrictions on who could make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment would be lifted nationwide by May 1, as supply is expected to be sufficient to meet demand.

Barbara Ferrer, head of Los Angeles County’s public health department, said Tuesday that she hopes the county will open vaccinations to everyone before that date.

Patchwork of eligibility rules

As COVID-19 vaccine supplies increase, a growing number of California’s 61 health departments have broken with state health guidelines and made the shots available to potentially millions of additional people,

Consider:

  • At least four counties — including Contra Costa, San Luis Obispo, Butte and Solano — have recently lowered their age requirement for vaccination to 50. In Tuolumne, it’s 45.
  • Several others — including San Diego and San Francisco — are now vaccinating people who are considered overweight or have chronic health conditions.
  • L.A. County is continuing to follow the state’s guidance for vaccine eligibility, the health department said Tuesday. County-run sites will not vaccinate people who do not live or work in the county, and have overbooked appointments if people from other counties manage to get a slot
  • People who are overweight — those with a body mass index between 25 and 29.9 — can be vaccinated in San Diego County, but not in neighboring Orange County, for instance. Residents of Contra Costa County in their 50s are now eligible, but residents in Alameda County are not.

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