SANTA ANA, Calif. – After weeks of sometimes confusing and frustrating restrictions, California is throwing open its coronavirus vaccine program to all adults as the nation's most populous state counts on a long-awaited boost in doses.
The move is seen as a crucial step as the state cautiously reopens an economy stifled for a year by COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.
“There’s not just light at the end of the tunnel; there’s bright light at the end of the tunnel,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference Thursday in Orange County.
Newsom said the state would start vaccinating anyone 50 and over in a week and anyone 16 and older on April 15.
“In just a few weeks, there’ll be no rules, no limitations, as it relates to the ability to get a vaccine administered,” Newsom said. “This state is going to come roaring back.”
Newsom, who is 53, said he looked forward to receiving the vaccine himself.
Governors across the country have expanded eligibility for the vaccine as supplies have increased. Earlier this month, Alaska opened eligibility to any resident over 16. Florida said Thursday it will open eligibility to anyone 18 and over on April 5, while Texas will start inoculating all adults next week.
President Joe Biden’s administration wants all states to make every adult eligible for the vaccine by May 1.
Currently vaccines are generally available only to those 65 or older or who have certain medical conditions. Several counties and communities already had lowered the eligibility requirements, but many of the state’s 40 million residents found themselves anxiously awaiting their turns.
California was initially slow to roll out the vaccines, but it has ramped up inoculations in recent weeks. The state expects to receive 2.5 million doses a week in the first half of the month and more than 3 million a week in the second, a big jump from the current weekly supply of roughly 1.8 million doses.
California so far has administered more than 15 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine. Initially, more affluent residents who could afford to spend hours scouring complicated web portals were snagging more appointment slots, prompting public health officials to take measures aimed at getting more of the doses to underserved communities where the virus has hit the hardest.
California is counting on mass inoculations to help the state recover from a pandemic that shuttered many businesses, barred most youngsters from in-school instruction and threw millions out of work. Those prohibitions have eased in recent weeks, however, as COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths plummeted following a deadly fall and winter surge.
Some county officials were eager to vaccinate more people while others said they were concerned there wouldn’t be enough doses to keep up with rising demand.
Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said his county has been told it will get 58,000 doses next week, but the state will begin allowing about 400,000 more people between the ages of 50 and 64 in the county to sign up, in addition to the current backlog.
“We don’t have the vaccine and we are concerned,” he said.
Even with the expansion of inoculations, it will take several months for willing Californians to be vaccinated, state officials said.
During that time, “we must not let our guard down," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency. “It is important that we remain vigilant, continue to wear masks and follow public health guidance.”
Associated Press writers Janie Har, Juliet Williams and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.