California expands eligibility for coronavirus vaccine
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California on Wednesday questioned an additional 4 million people for the coronavirus vaccine. This increased competition among the state's largest counties as they try to get enough doses to vaccinate their populations as the state continues to surge in new cases and deaths.
The state health authorities followed federal instructions to announce that people 65 and over could now receive the vaccine and joined the already eligible next tier of rescue workers, teachers, childcare workers, and food and farm workers.
But the decision confused some district officials, who said they didn't even have enough doses right now to vaccinate those who were already eligible. In Santa Clara County, where nearly 2 million people live, public health officials said they would only vaccinate people age 75 and older because they don't have enough doses to get around.
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California received more than 2.4 million vaccine doses on Monday, but only a third of those were used. Local governments are now quick to set up massive vaccine sales outlets in the hopes that they can convince state and federal officials to send them more doses.
"It's almost like a beauty pageant. And this shouldn't be a beauty pageant. This is a matter of life and death," said Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara district director Feel the need to face yourself. "
On Wednesday, officials opened a vaccination center in Disneyland that boasted of vaccinating up to 7,000 people a day. At a press conference in a normally busy parking lot, Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee appealed directly to President-elect Joe Biden and his goal of vaccinating 100 million people in his first 100 days in office.
"We can help you with that," said Chaffee. “We have the plan, the facilities, the staff and the will to have at least 1.5 million vaccinations per month. So can you send us 4 million cans? "
About 600 kilometers north of Santa Clara County officials were with Governor Gavin Newsom, who pledged to vaccinate 1 million people by Friday. They say they can give 35,000 doses a week. But when they asked the state for 100,000 doses, they only got 6,000.
"I'm sure the good people of Santa Clara County can vaccinate two or three times more people than the state ever imagined," said Supervisor Mike Wasserman. "Governor, if you want to hit that million-dose number, give Santa Clara County doses."
Exacerbating the problem: many district officials do not know how vaccines are used in their areas. The programs go to public health authorities in the district as well as to hospital chains and pharmacies that serve several districts. You don't have to tell local officials how to use them.
This has made it difficult for local governments to plan how to achieve their goals. Orange County wants most of its 3 million plus residents to be vaccinated by July 4th. Santa Clara County wants at least 85% of its eligible residents to be vaccinated by August 1st.
Santa Clara County's regulators have proposed a new law requiring major healthcare systems to make "detailed, written plans and schedules" for vaccine distribution and to publish those plans.
"We want to create an environment where there is no competition and no maximum collaboration," said Chavez. "But the longer an answer takes, the more the scarcity mentality will set in and cities, counties and states will drive each other on."
Sutter Health said it offered the vaccine to health care workers first and will start vaccinating patients 75 years or older later this week. Kaiser Permanente said it followed the prioritization guidelines of state and federal officials.
San Diego County, home to 3.3 million people, has received more than 241,000 doses and administered more than 92,000 of them - though the total number is likely because the defense and veterans affairs departments also provide vaccines for the area's large military presence.
San Diego has approximately 620,000 healthcare workers and residents of long-term healthcare facilities. If people aged 65 and over are eligible for the vaccine, add another 500,000 people.
"It's great that the state said, 'Hey, people 65 and over are eligible to get vaccines,' but that requires counties to actually have the vaccines," said district chief Nathan Fletcher.
The confusion was severely reprimanded by Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove, who described the distribution as an "absolute failure." A bipartisan group of state lawmakers sent Newsom a letter asking for more details on when vaccines will be available.
Newsom said the state's priority is to get vaccines "as soon as possible to those facing the most dire consequences". Urging patience for those who were not yet eligible, he said, "It's your turn."
In California, virus cases and hospital stays have skyrocketed since Thanksgiving, though numbers have declined in recent days. Newly reported cases in the past seven days in the most populous state in the country have far surpassed others like Texas and Florida - the second and third largest US states.
California reported another 589 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the number to 31,102 and 33,751 new infections, some of which will inevitably lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.
Newsom also announced a new system that will allow people to check if they are eligible to get a vaccine. Orange County already has a similar system in place. Tuesday night more than 10,000 people made an appointment there, and thousands asked to be notified when more appointments are available.
Gary Dohman, 81, said his son made an appointment for the vaccination in the Disneyland parking lot using the county's Othena app. He tried to do the same for Dohman's 79-year-old wife, but the system was so overloaded with requests that she couldn't get one until Thursday.
Dohman, who is being treated for cancer, said he had nowhere else to go since the pandemic except for doctor's appointments, so was excited about the vaccine.
"I've been in a house since March," he said. "I'm 81 years old. There are a few things on my bucket list that I still want to do."
Beam reports from Sacramento.
Amy Taxin reported from Orange County, California. Associate press writers Janie Har in San Francisco, Elliot Spagat in San Diego, and Don Thompson and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento also contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that the San Joaquin Valley region, not all of the Central Valley, continues to be home.
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