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It could take until June to vaccinate Californians 65 and older, health officials say

It could take until June to vaccinate Californians 65 and older, health officials say

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Vaccine

It could take 20 to 22 weeks — until June — for California to vaccinate those 65 years and older at its current pace, state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said Wednesday.

Pushed by the federal government to speed up its pace of vaccinations, which has been among the slowest in the nation, California last week agreed to vaccinate everyone over age 65 in the tier following health care workers and those in long-term care.

But Pan's remark at the state's Community Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting reflects the shortage in vaccine hitting states across the country, especially after the Trump administration disclosed last week that it did not have a stockpile of vaccines it had been promising to release.

The state has about 6.2 million residents 65 years and older. To vaccinate 70% of them, it needs more than 8.7 million doses, since current vaccines require people to get two shots, Pan said.

In December, California officials predicted they would be able to deliver at least 1.5 million doses of vaccine a week by February.

But the state is only getting 400,000 to 500,000 doses of vaccine a week from the federal government. That number isn't likely to tick up significantly until at least March, when other vaccines could get approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Pan said.

"The challenge we have is we don't have enough vaccine," California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris said.

California's vaccine plan now includes teachers and farmworkers in the same tier as those 65 and older.

But Pan said the slowdown in vaccine distribution, as well as confusion over the complexity of the current system, could push the state to make yet another change, simplifying how it allocates the vaccine.

Given that older residents have a significantly higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, it may make sense for the state to focus its vaccine allocation primarily on age, Pan said.

"Simplifying saves lives," Burke-Harris said.

But advocates urged the state to keep considering occupation and other factors as a way to have the vaccine distribution be more equitable.

Teachers, for instance, still need to be prioritized for vaccination so children in low-income neighborhoods can get back to school, said Debra Schade, a director at the California School Boards Association.

She said she has played tennis with people over 65 who are "fine."

"I'm not sure how the simplicity of those broad strokes are really serving California in moving us out of the pandemic," Schade said.

José Padilla, the executive director at the California Rural Legal Assistance, noted the working conditions of farmworkers, who can't socially distance and often lack protective equipment and sanitation supplies.

"I can't accept the fact that we are going to continue to forget the need of that community who's especially vulnerable," he said.

Editor's Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you'd like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

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