Weeks in the plan for mass vaccination in California are far behind schedule. Of the approximately 2 million doses that were distributed, only about 650,000 were injected into the arms of state residents, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Faced with criticism, officials are now taking steps to expand access. This week, they began offering vaccines at the next two levels to eligible recipients – moving beyond hospital staff to a wider range of healthcare professionals, such as people working in specialty clinics, dental clinics and pharmacies.
As early as next week, dentists will be offered a four-hour online training course on how to apply the shot.
President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, announced on Friday that his administration would release almost all available doses of vaccines when he takes office later this month, instead of holding back supplies for a second dose. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are currently approved for use.
Who gets the vaccine now?
We are currently in phase 1A, providing the vaccine to healthcare professionals and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 1A has three levels; counties move through these levels at different speeds, depending on local supply and demand.
Level 1: Acute hospitals, psychiatric and correctional facilities; staff and residents of qualified nursing and support housing facilities; paramedics, emergency medical technicians and dialysis centers.
Tier 2: Intermediate care; home health care; community health workers; public health workers; primary care clinics; repair clinics, rural clinics and emergency rooms.
Level 3: Other specialists and health workers, including specialized clinics, laboratory workers, dental and oral clinics and pharmacy staff, who have not been covered by higher levels.
This phase of vaccine distribution is relatively easy because employers simply notify their staff. Staff can be easily identified by professional licenses, employee badges or salaries.
The majority of doses for residents of qualified nurses and life support facilities are distributed by the federal government’s pharmacy program, not the state, although some counties have abandoned that program. CVS or Walgreens communicate directly with each facility.
Who gets the vaccine next?
The next step is Phase 1B, which is likely to begin in early February. It is hoped that everyone in this phase will be offered at least one dose by the end of March. Phase 1B has two levels:
Level 1: Everyone over the age of 75; education and childcare workers; emergency services officers (fire, police and correction officers); workers in food and agriculture, including workers in grocery stores.
Stage 2: All 65 and older; transport / logistics workers; industrial, residential and commercial shelters / services; critical production; prisoners; homeless.
When the vaccine is available to these groups, it is likely to be given by doctors and health plans, primary care clinics, pharmacies, some workplaces and special vaccination sites run by county public health departments and other community partners.
If you qualify based on your age, your doctor or health plan may be contacted. Kaiser, for example, will identify eligible members and offer a meeting. Local health services say they will look for older people by working with community groups and pension communities.
If you meet the conditions based on your profession – education, agriculture and food services – your employer can notify you. Doctors cannot make this decision because they do not keep information about the profession. The district health departments will communicate with employers about access to mass vaccination sites. Some employers may run their own vaccination campaigns.
People in prison will be reached through correctional staff. People in homeless shelters will be vaccinated by “strike teams” or in mass vaccination sites run by district health services.
Who is next?
Phase 1C follows. There is still no estimated starting date for vaccination in this group, but staff are working to offer everyone in this phase at least one dose of vaccine by the end of April or early May.
This group includes people aged 50 or over and people aged 16 to 49 at high risk due to disability or concomitant medical conditions and / or impairment (cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, organ transplantation). , obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking and type 2 diabetes mellitus).
This group also includes workers in water and waste management; defense; energy; communication and information technologies; financial services; chemicals / hazardous materials; government operations or community service.
These groups will receive vaccines from doctors and health plans, primary care clinics, pharmacies, some workplaces and special vaccination sites run by county public health departments and other community partners.
What about the others?
Phase 2 is only proposed and is likely to change before the expected start date of spring 2021.
It is likely to include municipal staff and residents and group homes for people with disabilities or serious mental illness, as well as people at moderate risk due to basic health conditions.
As supplies expand, this will include the population, children and workers not covered by phase 1.
How do I know if I qualify?
Call the state hotline COVID-19: 1-833-422-4255 (8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday to Friday; 8:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays). The hotline will provide general information on eligibility in phases 1A, 1B and 1C. Indicate your age and a description of the type of work you do.
I am a veteran. Where to go?
Like the state, the Veterans Administration also has a phased plan. It currently offers vaccines to these three groups: veterans living in long-term care facilities, veterans with spinal cord injuries, and VA medical staff.
Upon completion of these groups, the VA will begin offering vaccines to veterans who are at high risk of serious illness due to age or health, based on federal criteria.
If you are a veteran who is eligible for the vaccine, your healthcare team will contact you.
Do vulnerable communities receive any special assistance?
Using the California Healthy Places Index, an online tool that measures life expectancy and living conditions in the state, health professionals seek to track vaccination levels among communities and target underserved neighborhoods and rural areas.
How fast does the vaccine protect me?
It usually takes a few weeks for the body to build up immunity after vaccination. This means that it is possible for a person to become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 immediately after vaccination and still become ill. It is not known how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts, but after COVID-19 infections, most people have a strong immune response lasting at least 8 months.
What else is expected?
Both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are likely to receive results from their US study of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January. If all goes well, they will request an emergency permit in February.
The overall efficacy of these two vaccines in preventing infection is lower than that of Pfizer and Moderna. But they have other advantages. Both vaccines are easier to store as they do not require freezing. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose, which facilitates administration.
You currently do not have a choice of vaccine. But when several are available, that may change, as some people may prefer higher-efficiency shots – or single shots, for greater simplicity.