March 4, 2021

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California to allow people with disabilities, high-risk medical conditions vaccine access on March 15 – San Francisco Chronicle

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Starting March 15, two groups of younger, high-risk Californians — people with disabilities and people with severe underlying conditions — will be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, California officials said Friday.

These groups include 4 million to 6 million people between the ages of 16 and 64, said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. That is expected to bring the number of Californians eligible for vaccines to 17 million to 19 million by around March 15.

The underlying conditions that will result in vaccine eligibility on March 15 include cancer, chronic kidney disease at stage four or above, chronic pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, a weakened immune system from a solid organ transplant, sickle cell disease, pregnancy, heart conditions, severe obesity — defined as a body mass index at or over 40 — and Type 2 diabetes.

The state did not specify which disabilities would qualify people to be included in this next group. Broadly speaking, it applies to anyone who “as a result of a developmental or other severe high-risk disability” is likely to develop life-threatening illness or death from COVID-19, or who would be limited in receiving care vital to their survival if they got COVID-19.

People will have to show some verification for their condition, but officials are still determining what exactly that will entail.

“I think it’s great, it’s an appropriate group for us to get in the queue,” said Dr. George Rutherford of UCSF.

Age is a major risk factor in developing severe COVID-19 illness or death, but it is not the only one. Adults of any age with those underlying conditions are at increased risk of severe illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I want the disability community to know, we’ve heard you, and we’re going to do more and better to provide access, even with the scarcity,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday when he visited the mass vaccination site at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

Ghaly said the reason the two newly eligible groups are not getting access immediately is because there is still very limited vaccine supply, and because it will take some time to iron out details such as how verification for medical conditions will work. There is already not enough vaccine coming to the state to immunize everyone currently eligible according to state guidelines — about 13 million health care workers, nursing home residents and workers, people 65 and over, and workers in education, food and agriculture, and emergency services. Some counties are not even vaccinating all eligible groups due to supply constraints.

“I am grateful that they committed to a time frame, and if they are estimating the number to be that big (4 million to 6 million more) that is a very good sign,” said Andrew Imparato, who serves on a state vaccine advisory committee and is executive director of Disability Rights California.

However, Imparato questioned the decision to wait until March 15.

“If we can move that date up as vaccine supplies ramp up, that would be my preference,” he said. “But today’s announcement is a huge step forward from where the state was on February 2.”

As of Friday, about 5.5 million doses of vaccine had been administered to Californians, a figure that includes first and second doses, according to state data. Both vaccines currently available in the United States, by Pfizer and Moderna, require two shots, either three or four weeks apart.

The state on Friday also released statewide demographic data on who has been vaccinated so far by age, gender, and race or ethnicity. It shows that 54% of people who have gotten at least one shot are 65 or over, followed by 29% who are between 18 and 49, and 17% who are between 50 and 64.

More shots have been administered to women than men, 59% compared to 41%.

The data indicates white, Asian and multiracial residents are getting vaccinated at higher rates than Black and Latino residents, when taking into account the state’s overall racial and ethnic makeup.

White residents represent about 33% of vaccinations and 37% of the state’s population, according to state and Census data, respectively. Multiracial residents represent 14% of vaccinations and 4% of the population. Asian residents represent 13% of vaccinations, and 16% of the population.

Vaccination rates are lower among Latino and Black residents. Hispanic or Latino residents make up 16% of vaccinations, despite accounting for 39% of the population. Black residents make up 3% of vaccinations, but account for 7% of the population.

“We have work to do as a state to do more and do better to reach out to our diverse communities,” Newsom said.

At least four Bay Area counties released vaccination demographic data ahead of the state — Contra Costa, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara. The local data similarly shows that so far, white and Asian residents are getting vaccinated in significantly higher numbers than Black and Latino residents. Part of that is because the groups that have been vaccinated so far — health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, and people 65 and older — are disproportionately white and Asian, local health officials have said.

Officials and community advocates are working to make vaccines more accessible for people in regions hardest hit by the virus, which tend to be low-income neighborhoods. San Francisco, for instance, recently opened two drop-in vaccination clinics for residents in five ZIP codes in the southeast portion of the city.

Richard Herron, a 72-year-old Black man who lives in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point area, had been trying to get the coronavirus vaccine for weeks, but to no avail.

“The websites were just so confusing. Going on different websites and trying to sign up over here and over there and the waiting, that brings a lot of anxiety,” he said.

But he was able to get vaccinated at the Southeast Health Center in Bayview on Friday — which left Herron, a longtime music teacher at Alamo Elementary School, bursting with joy.

“I’m glad it was in the neighborhood because it was very accessible to the community and a lot of elderly people don’t have transportation, and it’s hitting the minority community very hard, and it’s giving a lot of anxiety,” he said.

Rickey Fairley, a Black man who lives in the Bayview-Hunters Point area and works as a security guard at the de Young Museum, said he had also been puzzled as to how to get the vaccine.

Then, Friday morning, a day before his 68th birthday, Fairley unexpectedly received an email saying he could come get vaccinated for free just a few blocks from his house.

He said he “jumped out of bed” and rushed over to the Southeast Health Center — which so far has vaccinated 854 people of Asian heritage, 587 Black people, 231 white people and 214 people who identify as Hispanic or Latino.

“I feel a lot better. I’m still going to wear my mask, but I feel a little more comfortable,” Fairley said.

Chronicle staff writers Nanette Asimov and Michael Williams contributed to this report.

Catherine Ho and Meghan Bobrowsky are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: cho@sfchronicle.com meghan.bobrowsky@sfchronicle.com

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