SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Betting on a flood of supply from the federal government, California officials on Thursday announced all residents over the age of 16 will be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine beginning April 15.
The state’s latest expansion will start with residents over the age of 50 who will be able to sign up for the shot starting April 1. State officials said the decision was based on new estimates predicting California’s vaccine supply will greatly increase in the coming weeks.
Governor Gavin Newsom credited the Biden administration for the significant development in the state’s push to secure and vaccinate nearly 40 million residents.
“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. “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.”
According to Newsom, California is slated to receive 2.5 million doses weekly in the beginning of April, and a bump to 3 million by the end of the month.
The state is currently averaging around 1.8 million doses per week, a number Newsom has said for weeks is far from sufficient as the state has the capability to administer 3 million per week. In total, the state expects to receive around 11 million doses in April as the Johnson & Johnson version becomes more readily available.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly cast the expansion as a significant development but reiterated it could still take months for everyone to get their shots if supplies run short again.
“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,” said Ghaly. “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.”
In making all adults eligible for the vaccine next month, California will beat President Biden’s goal of universal eligibility by May 1. Several other states are already offering the vaccine to everyone over 16, including Arizona and West Virginia, while dozens have announced universal eligibility dates for later this month or early April.
Along with the “stair-stepped” expansion predicted to climax on what is traditionally been known as Tax Day or April 15, the state is giving providers immediate wiggle room in handing out shots.
Newsom said providers could decide to give it to someone accompanying a family member an appointment for the shot, even if they aren’t currently eligible under the state’s framework.
“No questions asked,” Newsom told reporters.
Newsom was however exaggerating the change as according to the new framework, providers are given the leeway only for those living in areas that have seen large amounts of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
Thursday’s announcement comes as welcomed news in a state that struggled mightily in the early stages of its vaccine rollout.
Millions of doses languished on hospital and pharmacy shelves last December and January as California quickly fell behind the vaccination pace set by other major states. The rampant dysfunction and lack of state guidance caused counties to forge their own path in administering the life-saving vaccine at a time when the state was averaging nearly 500 Covid-19 deaths per day.
For weeks Newsom defended the state’s failing plan, but ultimately the Democratic governor was forced to scrap it after data showed vaccines were not being distributed quickly or fairly.
In response to complaints of minority and low-income residents being unable to find the vaccine, Newsom ordered 40% of all doses be reserved for the state’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. The state also recruited Blue Shield of California to take over the distribution process.
The state has turned things around, according to federal data, as California has administered 76% of its supply so far, up from less than 30% in mid-January.
Newsom, who has yet to receive the vaccine, highlighted the improvements during a press conference, noting California has now administered more doses (15.5 million) than any other state and all other nations except for five. He boasted the numbers will continue to rise later on in the spring when the state will have the capability to administer 4 million doses in a single week.
“Just a few weeks there will be no rules, no limitations as it relates to the ability to get a vaccine,” Newsom claimed.