Gail Newel, Santa Cruz County health officer
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID 2022

Vaccine eligibility to be expanded to people 50-plus, but Newel says current supply won’t meet demand

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expanding vaccine eligibility to anyone 50 and older in California starting on April 1 — and this will further expand to everyone 16 and older on April 15. So what does that mean for Santa Cruz County residents?

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that starting April 1, people 50 and older will be eligible to make appointments for COVID-19 vaccines — and people 16 and older will be eligible to make appointments starting on April 15.

But while the governor brimmed with optimism that a projected increasing supply of shots could quickly be put into arms, Santa Cruz County officials were trying to temper the public’s expectations.

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County communications manager Jason Hoppin said he expects the county will “align with the state,” in terms of expanding vaccine eligibility, but added that “eligibility and accessibility are not the same thing.”

Newsom’s announcement

“With vaccine supply increasing and by expanding eligibility to more Californians, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter,” Newsom said in a statement. “We remain focused on equity as we extend vaccine eligibility to those older than 50 starting April 1, and those older than 16 starting April 15.

“This is possible thanks to the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration and the countless public health officials across the state who have stepped up to get shots into arms.”

California expects to be allocated approximately 2.5 million first and second doses per week in the first half of April, and more than 3 million doses in the second half of April. The current allocation is about 1.8 million doses per week.

The state currently has the capacity to administer about 3 million vaccines per week and is “building the capacity to administer 4 million vaccines weekly by the end of April,” according to the statement.

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County officials ‘counseling patience’

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, county officials, however, questioned the pace at which additional vaccines could arrive here and be distributed.

Going forward, county Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said officials here expect a “very slow increase” in supply through April, with a substantial increase in May. But, “there is no way we’ll be able to meet demand during the month of April with these new windows of opportunity opening,” Newel said, referring to Newsom’s new age requirements.

The county, she added, hopes to have offered a vaccine to every resident over the age of 16 by June or July.

County health officials also said that their vaccine supply had increased this week, with a shipment of about 5,000 doses, compared to the approximate average of 3,000. The county, however, is one of several entities receiving vaccines (others include health systems and pharmacies) so the increase in doses might not be indicative of the larger supply chain.

While vaccine supplies have ramped up in recent weeks, shortages and distribution logistics have remained a challenge. Sutter/PAMF, for example, is one of three major health systems that has been vaccinating Santa Cruz County patients, and the health system’s website on Thursday cautioned there is “limited COVID-19 vaccine availability” and “we’re opening first dose appointments as supply allows.”

“We are concerned that with the expanded eligibility and not much expansion in vaccine supply, it’s probably going to generate some frustration in people who are going to look for an appointment,” said deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci. “Obviously now we just have more people in line and we do counsel patience there.”

Top state official: ‘It will take time’

Said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly: “We are even closer to putting this pandemic behind us with today’s announcement and with vaccine supplies expected to increase dramatically in the months ahead. However, we are not there yet. It will take time to vaccinate all eligible Californians.

“During this time, we must not let our guard down,” Ghaly added. “It is important that we remain vigilant, continue to wear masks and follow public health guidance.”

Newsom also announced Thursday that family members of eligible people who live in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas as defined by the state’s “Healthy Places Index” will also be eligible for vaccines. This means the county will now work with residents of Watsonville, Beach Flats, and Live Oak, to get them in for vaccination as entire families, not under age ranges.

Health officials also shared that the scheduling function for MyTurn, the state’s COVID-19 appointment website, should be activated for Santa Cruz County on March 29.

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