COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Mad Fever’ Is On For Californians Aged 50-64 As Expansion Nears

The countdown has started.

California announced Thursday that all adults will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine beginning April 15, prompting an immediate flurry of phone calls, appointment requests and people trying to secure their places in line.

But the two-week window before the free-for-all program begins marks a tipping point in the launch of the vaccine in the state, particularly for people between the ages of 50 and 64, who become eligible on April 1. A patchwork of rules, uncertainty about supply levels. and questions about capacity and accessibility remain even as they prepare for their shift.

“Two weeks is not long enough for the 50-64-year-old to deploy,” Jim Chadwick, 64, of Burbank, said Friday. “April 1 is going to be a crazy race.”

The California Department of Finance, which monitors population data, projects that there are nearly 1.9 million people in Los Angeles County between the ages of 50 and 64, and 7.2 million in the state. Currently, only about 23% of Californians in that age group have received at least one dose of a vaccine, depending on the state, compared with 37% of people ages 18 to 49, likely due to their occupation or health condition.

Rafi Nazarians, AARP associate state director, said the short vaccination window for people ages 50 to 64 is cause for some apprehension.

“The two-week period is concerning given the challenges that persist with the supply and access to technology,” he said. “We will continue to urge that Californians over 50 be given priority … just to make sure those most at risk can get vaccines.”

It is not clear exactly how many people between the ages of 50 and 64 have yet to get vaccinated in Los Angeles County. Some would have already been eligible because of their job or because they have qualifying health conditions.

“So it’s not like we’re starting from scratch,” said Dr. Paul Simon, chief scientist for the county’s Department of Public Health.

However, he estimated on Friday that between 800,000 and 1 million additional people would be eligible as of April 1.

“There will probably be a rush. I want to make sure the public recognizes that there can be challenges in getting an appointment right away, ”he said during a briefing. “It just, again, reflects the limited supply of vaccines.”

On a positive note, state officials have said that a significant supply increase is imminent, and weekly allocations are expected to increase to around 2.5 million doses during the first half of April, which will help accommodate the large number of people.

Federal officials said they expect more than 11 million doses of Johnson & Johnson , Which only require one injection, will be delivered nationwide next week, a huge quantity compared to what has been shipped to date.

Los Angeles County is already beginning to see an increase in its vaccine supply. The county anticipates receiving 338,100 total doses next week, which is a 21% increase from this week and, Simon said, appears to be the highest weekly allowance to date.

Over the past month, the county had been getting more than 250,000 to 280,000 doses per week in the neighborhood, he said.

However, it will take time for the county to work through its already long line of vaccines, as well as accommodate those who will soon be eligible.

This, as is the case with so many things in the time of COVID-19, will be a balancing act, Simon said.

“Even with an increased supply of vaccines, we certainly cannot handle about a million people during that first week, given all the other groups that are also currently being vaccinated,” he said. “But I would expect that, over the next few weeks, demand will slow down a bit and things will open up, particularly as this vaccine supply continues to increase. So I urge people to be patient. “

But people over the age of 50 have been greatly affected by the pandemic and should not be forgotten, the AARP Nazarians said. More than 90% of all COVID-19 deaths in California have been people 50 years of age or older, according to state data, and many still face issues with mobility, language barriers, and technology.

“We are going to urge the state of California to do more to reach older adults, particularly those who are not online and those who are confined to their homes,” he said. “It is important to us that all Californians have access to accurate and transparent information about vaccines.”

Jon Ferrara, 61, of Santa Monica, was also concerned about barriers for his age group.

“I am not concerned with my ability to secure an appointment for the vaccine as I am quite resourceful and technical,” he said, “but I am concerned about those who are older or have less access to the digital technology necessary to fill out the forms.

He was skeptical about the state’s ability to vaccinate the group between April 1-14. “California would need to greatly expand vaccine delivery sites and register for all residents ages 50 to 64 to get vaccinated within two weeks,” Ferrara said.

Contributing to the two-week challenge is a lack of consistency, not just across the state, but even in some counties. Some parts of California, including Long Beach and Solano and Contra Costa counties, have already opened eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 50 to 64. Residents are still unsure if and when it is acceptable to cross county lines.

And while some counties have already expanded eligibility beyond state guidance, others continue to compete for a higher offer. In Santa Clara County, which recently moved to the orange tier of the state for a further reopening, authorities announced Thursday once again that they were waiting for adequate supply to meet current and future demand.

“We are excited to expand eligibility. That is why we have increased capacity so quickly, to be able to quickly vaccinate as many eligible people who live and work here as possible, ”said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, county COVID-19 vaccine and testing officer. “Currently, our challenge is not one of capacity or eligibility, but one of supply.”

The county, like the state, has the ability to administer a significant number of doses once the allocation increases. Authorities said the county is capable of administering 200,000 vaccinations per week. So far 805,000 doses have been administered.

Another potential issue is the challenge of access to get an appointment and get to the vaccine destination. A federally run vaccine site in Cal State LA had been prioritized as a destination for people dependent on public transportation. The center included a driving site as well as a non-elevator facility near the school’s transit center. It’s unclear how its shutdown on April 11 will affect those who are less mobile.

Access to get an appointment has been an ongoing challenge as more people compete for available spaces.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said its vaccine hotline saw a notable increase in calls last week after the state expanded eligibility to nearly 5 million more people. Appointments were hard to come by for many those early days, in part because the scheduling website was not opened for pre-registration prior to the date eligibility went into effect and an increase in traffic made it difficult for some to get through the system. .

“I think it will be several weeks before I can find a date,” Los Angeles resident Jeanette Ziolkowski, 63, said Friday. Ziolkowski has waited patiently for her chance at a chance, even as she watched her 68-year-old husband receive his two doses of Pfizer. She’s not convinced there is enough time for her cohort to get vaccinated before everyone is eligible on April 15.

“65 and older has been open since January, and I think it’s still a struggle for many in that group,” he said.

But as confirmed cases of coronavirus variants rise across the state, and some counties see slight increases in projected transmission, state and local officials have emphasized the importance of vaccinating residents as soon as possible to avoid another increase.

And despite the tight time frame for the group, many in their 50s and 60s were excited by the news of the expansion.

“I’m so happy I can’t even begin to tell you,” said Travis Stewart, 51, who has been quarantined at his Valley Village home for nearly 400 days.

For Stewart, the news came much earlier than expected: He thought his shot of a vaccine wouldn’t arrive until June or July. You now have everything marked on your computer – CVS, Walgreens, My Turn, and other sites – ready to go on April 1.

“I feel like what the state is doing is a kind of ‘soft opening’,” he said, “to prepare the infrastructure for the floods that are coming.”

After so many months of home cooking, Stewart said she really wants to eat at a restaurant again. And not only is she happy that her opportunity is coming soon, but also that those under 50 are not left behind: her husband, a few years younger than her, will be in the group that will be eligible on April 15.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” Stewart said, “unless we’re both vaccinated.”

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