SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California is immediately allowing residents 65 and older to get scarce coronavirus vaccines.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Wednesday puts seniors in line before emergency workers, teachers, childcare providers and food and agriculture workers even as counties complain they already don’t have enough doses to go around.
"There is no higher priority than efficiently and equitably distributing these vaccines as quickly as possible to those who face the gravest consequences," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. "To those not yet eligible for vaccines, your turn is coming. We are doing everything we can to bring more vaccines into the state."
While health care workers and those in nursing homes and other congregate living facilities can still be vaccinated, state officials are expanding to those 65 and up because they are at the greatest risk of being hospitalized and dying.
California has seen virus cases and hospitalizations explode since Thanksgiving, though in recent days the numbers have flattened.
"With our hospitals crowded and ICUs full, we need to focus on vaccinating Californians who are at highest risk of becoming hospitalized to alleviate stress on our health care facilities," said Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health and the state’s Public Health Officer. "Prioritizing individuals age 65 and older will reduce hospitalizations and save lives."
This comes as California lifted a stay-at-home order for 13 northern counties with improving hospital conditions, but most of the state’s population remains under tight restrictions in the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
The state on Tuesday lifted the order in the Sacramento region — a rare turn of good news as the state pushes through what Gov. Gavin Newsom called its "most intense surge" of the coronavirus.
The order imposed Dec. 10 banned gatherings outside a household and restricted many businesses. With virus cases and hospitalizations more stable, the region can resume outdoor dining and worship services, reopen hair and nail salons and other businesses, and increase capacity at retailers. Gatherings up to three households are allowed.
Newsom, a Democrat, made the announcement on social media — reminding people to wear masks and stay home as much as possible. He offered a hopeful promise: "There is a light at the end of this tunnel."
Three of five state regions — the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California — remain under the stay-at-home order because their hospitals’ intensive care capacity is severely limited.
Even though the state is now allowed to administer vaccines, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county does not immediately have enough doses to expand the distribution to those 65 and older.
She said the county's top priority remains getting health care workers vaccinated, with hopes of providing doses to another 500,000 such workers by the end of the month.
"We've asked the state to give us more vaccines so we can use some of other partners ... to be able to open up for vaccinating those folks that are 65 and older quicker than the beginning of February, which is when we had planned to be able to complete health care workers and then move one,'' she said.
According to the state, a website is being set up for people to register for email notifications about when they will be eligible for shots. Los Angeles County already has an email system set up for people to sign up to receive updates on vaccine distribution. People can register at vaccinatelacounty.com.
City News Service contributed to this report