San Diegans 50 and up eligible for vaccine starting April 1, and those 16 and up by April 15

COVID-19 vaccine.
Shari Williams received her first vaccination (Moderna) from Jackie Troulx, RN at the vaccination super station at Cal State San Marcos on Thursday, March 25, 2021 in San Marcos. By end of day Thursday, Sharp HealthCare estimates they have given more than 500 vaccinations at the North County site.


(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
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The announcement comes as the state expects a strong and steady increase in vaccine supply

Starting April 1, all Californians 50 and up will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine, with those 16 and up eligible beginning April 15, according to an announcement on Thursday, March 25, from the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The news comes as officials anticipate a steady surge in vaccine supply, and as the rise of new coronavirus variants underscores the importance of vaccinating as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

“With vaccine supply increasing and by expanding eligibility to more Californians, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter,” said Newsom in a statement.

Syringes with the Modern vaccine.
Pharmacist Christine Duong prepares syringes with the Modern vaccine for patients with appointments at the vaccination super station at Cal State San Marcos on Thursday, March 25, 2021 in San Marcos, CA.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Those in the soon-to-be eligible groups likely won’t be able to schedule appointments through MyTurn (myturn.ca.gov), the state’s vaccine notification and scheduling system, until April 1 or 15, according to a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, but may be able to book appointments sooner at vaccine sites that use other scheduling systems.

The announcement was welcome news to Mary Niez, 59, who was pleased that people in the 50-64 age group will have a couple weeks to make appointments before having to compete with younger adults.

“The specter of being lumped in with everyone from (64) to 16 was a little disconcerting,” said Niez, who lives in the College Area near San Diego State University. “We have decreased immunity, and we’re not the same as a 30- and a 40-year-old.”

Danielle Tanner received her first vaccination (Moderna) from Tori Anderson, RN.
Danielle Tanner received her first vaccination (Moderna) from Tori Anderson, RN at the vaccination super station at Cal State San Marcos on Thursday, March 25, 2021 in San Marcos, CA.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gov. Newsom also said that, effective immediately, family members who show up with someone currently eligible to get immunized can also get a shot, regardless of their age, occupation or medical history.

The state’s Department of Public Health later clarified that family members can only get vaccinated if they live in a county’s most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, as measured by the state’s Healthy Places Index. A department official said that vaccine providers can choose whether to immunize relatives or anyone else living with a person who has made a vaccine appointment.

It’s unclear whether any local vaccine providers will do so. Spokespersons for Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare, the region’s two largest health systems, said that they will continue to offer vaccines by appointment only, noting that inoculating people without appointments would make it nearly impossible to plan their operations. A representative for UC San Diego Health said the system needed to learn more about the recently announced changes before commenting, and officials at Rady Children’s Hospital were unavailable for comment.

Coronavirus statistics from March 2020 to June 14, 2021.

The sweeping announcements were driven by the state’s expectation that it will receive 2.5 million doses a week in the first half of April, with an uptick to 3 million doses in the latter half of the month. Currently, California receives around 1.8 million doses a week.

Local supply has recently gone up, too. Last week, the region received around 90,000 doses. This week, county officials expect to receive 98,000. And next week, officials expect a 10 percent increase, which would mean that close to 108,000 doses will flow into the region.

“We are beginning to see sustained increases in the availability of new vaccines. We would like to see much larger jumps and we certainly have much more capacity,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher on Wednesday, March 24, during the county’s weekly coronavirus briefing.

“We ask the public to continue to be patient. There’s a large number of San Diegans that are now eligible.”

If the fraction of California’s doses routed to San Diego holds steady, that means the region could receive around 125,000 doses a week in the first half of April and closer to 150,000 a week in the second half.

That would help the region make full use of its extensive network of vaccine sites, which have the capacity to immunize 35,000 San Diegans a day, said Nick Macchione, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency. These locations only immunized around 12,600 people a day last week.

County officials hope to have 1.9 million San Diegans fully immunized by July 1. The need for mass vaccination was laid bare on Wednesday, March 24, when the county reported the first two local cases of a coronavirus variant first spotted in Brazil. Researchers and public health officials stress that current vaccines can curtail the spread and emergence of new strains by lowering the overall amount of virus circulating and mutating in the world.

“It really is, in some ways, a race of vaccines against variants,” said Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services, while at a vaccination site in Orange County with Newsom on Thursday, March 25.

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The arrival of more vaccine should also help San Diego move into a less restrictive reopening tier. That’s because the state will adjust the cutoff for exiting the county’s current tier, the red tier, once 4 million vaccine doses have been administered in ZIP codes that fall into the bottom quartile of Healthy Places Index regions.

As of Wednesday, March 24, 3 million doses have been delivered in those areas. Once the state hits the 4 million mark, counties will need a coronavirus case rate of below six cases per 100,000 residents to exit the red tier; the current cutoff is four.

San Diego County’s case rate is 5.5. If the region can limit the spread of the coronavirus over the next few weeks, it could enter the orange tier by April 7.

That would lead to further gradual reopenings of the region’s economy. Restaurants, places of worship and movie theaters could operate at 50 percent rather than 25 percent of indoor capacity. Capacity limits on shopping malls would lift. And bars could reopen outdoors.

On Thursday, March 25, the county reported 210 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths. The number of San Diegans in the hospital due to a coronavirus infection has dropped to 217, including 75 people currently in the intensive care unit.

— Jonathan Wosen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune

Updates

1:01 p.m. March 26, 2021: This story has been updated with additional information from Gov. Gavin Newsom.