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Health and Medicine

California To Expand COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility To Residents With Severe Health Conditions, Disabilities

A volunteer in a clinical trial for an experimental COVID-19 vaccine receives an injection last month at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Fla.

Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters on Friday that waiting until March 15 allows the state time to increase its limited vaccine doses and build up distribution infrastructure that will give providers time to prepare.

Updated 4:37 p.m.

Californians who are 64 and younger and have severe health conditions will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 15 according to new guidance announced Friday by the state’s public health department.

State health secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters on Friday that waiting until March 15 allows the state time to increase its limited vaccine doses and build up distribution infrastructure that will give providers time to prepare.

"The bottom line is we are still dealing very much with a scarcity of vaccines,” Ghaly said.

Currently, only health care workers, nursing home residents, people over age 65 and workers in education, child care, emergency services, food and agriculture are also eligible depending on availability. Friday's announcement means people who are between 16 and 64 years old who have extreme underlying health conditions will be next in the state’s vaccination priorities.

Here’s a list of those health conditions, according to the state’s health department:

  • Cancer, current with debilitated or immunocompromised state
  • Chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above
  • Chronic pulmonary disease, oxygen dependent
  • Down syndrome
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies (excludes hypertension)
  • Severe obesity (Body Mass Index greater than 40 kg/m2)
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5%

The state’s guidance also says that those in that age group could be eligible if, “as a result of developmental or other severe high-risk disability” the individual could die from COVID-19, stop receiving health care services that are “vital to their well-being and survival” or if getting COVID-19 care would be too challenging.
Medical providers will have the discretion to determine a patient’s eligibility. State health officials said the list of eligible conditions could change based on scientific data and analysis.

This change will allow up to 6 million more Californians to become eligible under that new group.

People with underlying health conditions were originally part of the state's vaccine rollout plan, but were removed Jan. 25 after the state prioritized people aged 65 and older. That brought criticism from disability rights advocates, who pointed to data that people with intellectual disabilities who contract COVID-19 die at a higher rate than other residents.

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