All Californians ages 16 and up will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations starting April 15, the state announced Thursday.
In addition, Santa Barbara County opened up eligibility to all residents aged 50 and older for Public Health-run mass vaccination clinics next week in Lompoc.
On April 1, next Thursday, 50-plus residents will be able to book appointments at any participating pharmacy, hospital, clinic or other vaccine provider across the state.
“It will still take months to get every Californian vaccinated who wants to be, but millions are being vaccinated each week,” the state said in a statement.
“Our ability to do more has always been constrained by supply, manufactured supply,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference Thursday. “We have confidence now of the manufactured supply becoming available sooner than we had anticipated.”
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health & Human Services Agency Secretary, said the state also made the decision because of novel coronavirus surges seen in other parts of the country and the world.
It is “a race of vaccines against variants and we need to do this quickly,” he said.
The state wants to remove barriers to access for vaccination, including documentation, which is why it decided to allow self-attestation for people with medical conditions, he said.
People in that category do not need a doctor’s note or other documents, and can sign something attesting they have a high-risk medical condition that qualifies.
Santa Barbara County is still vaccinating the 65-plus group, 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions, plus essential workers including healthcare workers, education and childcare workers, food and agriculture workers, and emergency services workers. The 50-plus group is eligible for the county-run clinic from Sunday to Saturday, and then next Thursday will be eligible for appointments at all vaccine providers.
Other counties, including San Luis Obispo County, have already expanded eligibility to people over 50.
Appointments have been in high demand locally, which is why the county has not opened them up to additional groups yet, according to public health officials.
The county has distributed 142,441 doses of vaccine as of Sunday and 11% of county residents are fully vaccinated.
April 1 is when Santa Barbara County officially enters the statewide Blue Shield system, which will centralize vaccination appointments through the MyTurn website at https://myturn.ca.gov/.
Every pharmacy, hospital, and clinic has a different registration platform right now, “so by the end of the month, MyTurn is that platform that all the state of California will be using to register or to make an appointment for vaccination,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said during a town hall meeting Tuesday.
County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato signed the memorandum of understanding with the state for the Blue Shield system last week, she added.
Some providers, including Cottage Hospital and Sansum Clinic, have already started using the system simultaneously with their independent registration systems.
County leaders have continuously said they expect the limited supply of doses to increase, and weekly totals do show higher deliveries and distribution in recent weeks.
Asked why other counties have been vaccinating 50-plus residents while Santa Barbara County is still limited to 65-plus residents, Do-Reynoso said on Tuesday:
“When a county has exhausted the number of people who are interested in getting a vaccine and they have that same supply, then they can have that policy change. So as long as the county can attest that they’ve done their best, they’ve vaccinated everybody that’s eligible, 65 and above and comorbidities and everything and still have room, they can reach down to the 50s.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough vaccines even though we’re seeing a huge, significant increase, we still have 65s and we still have 80-year-olds who are wanting a vaccine but have not been able to get an appointment, and we have other priority groups that are in need of a vaccine but yet have had an opportunity so we want to abide by the state’s guidance and make sure those priority groups get vaccinated first before we reach down to the 50s.”
On Thursday, during an interview with KEYT, Van Do-Reynoso agreed that the process of checking multiple websites for vaccination appointments compared the process to getting a ticket to ‘Hamilton’ or a concert.
That is expected to change as supply increases, and thousands of additional doses are going to be distributed in mass vaccination clinics starting Sunday, she said.
Appointments are available for the first clinic, in Lompoc, by calling the 2-1-1 call center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day or registering through the county website: https://publichealthsbc.org/vaccine/