A vaccination at a long-term care facility in San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

People aged 65 and older and those with serious underlying health conditions across California could quickly become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, with federal officials urging states Tuesday to more widely distribute the shots

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, said the change could be implemented within 24 hours. He said California’s vaccine advisory committee and a prioritization guidelines workgroup are already reviewing the suggested guidelines.

“Those communications have already begun and will go throughout the day so we can evaluate the new federal guidance, determine how it’s going to impact what we do here in California and — with haste without delay — getting that updated guidance out,” Ghaly said, adding that he expects that will come in the next 24 hours or so.

Acting under a phased approach initially developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states have given top priority to frontline healthcare workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Most states are still working to get the shots to healthcare workers, but the slow pace of administering the shots has led to calls to authorize more people to receive doses.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday the state has only administered about one-third of the nearly 2.5 million vaccine doses it has received so far.

In San Diego County alone, there are 500,000 people in Phase 1A of the priority list, which includes healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Phase 1B incudes people aged 65 and over and essential workers in education, child care, emergency services and food and agriculture.

Phase 1C includes younger residents with serious underlying health conditions and workers in other categories of essential services.

The new federal guidance, if adopted by the state, would almost immediately swing the door open for those groups to become immediately available for vaccines.

The news comes as several large-scale vaccination sites are opening in Southern California. Dodger Stadium will open later this week as a drive-thru vaccination facility, as will a Disneyland parking area. Petco Park in San Diego is also home to a vaccination clinic.

The state has already loosened vaccine priorities once. Last week it authorized vaccines for all categories of health care workers included in Phase 1A of the prioritization plan, not just hospital and other frontline workers at the top of the list.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.