As of today, March 15th, California has directed healthcare providers to expand eligibility for the covid-19 vaccine to include individuals with certain pre-existing conditions. These pre-existing conditions put patients at a greater risk of severe harm if they contract covid-19, which is why these people are being prioritized for doses, which remain critically limited.
This follows the same logic which was used to vaccinate healthcare workers and the elderly first: everyone wanting to be vaccinated will be vaccinated eventually, but while we are critically limited on supply, we attempt to vaccinate those at most risk first.
As a result of this expansion, we’re introducing two new things: an eligibility checklist, and eligibility filters on VaccinateCA.com
Who is now eligible?
The state estimates that as many as 4-6 million Californians have become eligible for the vaccine as of March 15th. The expansion adds several new professions, including public transit workers and janitorial workers, to those who are eligible for vaccinations, as well as people who live in high risk congregant residential housing such as homeless shelters, behavioral health facilities or detention.
Critically, the expansion also includes two groups: those with certain specified pre-existing conditions and those at higher risk of severe covid-19 due to other medical factors.
The specified conditions are:
- Cancer which has lead to lowered immune system functioning
- Chronic kidney disease at stage 4 or above
- Chronic pulmonary disease
- Down syndrome
- Receiving solid organ transplants which caused lowered immune system functioning
- Sickle cell disease
- BMI > 40
- Type 2 diabetes
This list is short, to get doses to people who urgently need them, while we still have too few doses.
In addition to those conditions, the state allows medical providers to judge patients as being at increased risk of severe covid-19. For example, a doctor might do this if a patient had a developmental disorder or needed ongoing medical care that covid-19 would make harder to provide.
The state agrees with the view of doctors that no single list of conditions adequately describes all possible risk factors. Your doctor is the person best qualified to have a holistic view of your health. If you do not have a primary care doctor or insurance coverage, you can get care directly from a community health clinic, regardless of your ability to pay.
If your doctor recommends you hold off on getting the vaccine, we recommend following their medical advice. Everyone who wants to receive the vaccine will eventually be vaccinated.
Not sure if you’re eligible?
Given the large number of potential conditions that could qualify as high risk, we’ve developed a tool to help vaccine seekers determine if they should speak to their doctor about whether or not they qualify for the vaccine. It asks a series of simple questions about your health and employment, takes a maximum of 3 minutes to complete, and will point you in the direction of resources and appointments nearby (if you’re eligible) once you’re done.
You can check it out at VaccinateCA.com/checklist.
Looking for an appointment? Filter to see where you qualify.
Because not every vaccination location is accepting every eligible subgroup of vaccine seekers today, we’re introducing new filters that allow you to narrow your search results to see only those that fit people in your age, employment, or other qualification criteria.
Take a look at VaccinateCA.com.
What you should expect for vaccine appointment availability
In the short term, there is likely to be confusion about eligibility criteria, widespread reports of undersupply, and great differences in policy between providers and locations. These have happened during every previous expansion of eligibility in the state.
Our overall problem remains that more people (sensibly!) want the vaccine than we have doses available. The supply situation among the eligible will reach equilibrium within a few weeks at most locations.
There are two factors at play for this expansion in particular. First, the federal government has recently told pharmacies to prioritize childcare and education workers within the month of March. Historically, pharmacies have been a high volume and critical source of appointments, so this restriction means availability for high risk Californians may be especially low for some Californians.
The other factor is documentation. For reasons of patient medical privacy, the state has sensibly directed vaccination locations not to require documentation of a pre-existing condition. Instead, vaccine seekers will need to sign a self-attestation that they have a qualifying pre-existing condition.
However, as has been the case in all stages of the roll-out, adherence to this guidance may vary across locations. We have already heard reports that some locations with limited availability may request a doctor’s note. Some will likely have looser eligibility criteria, bordering on “available for anyone who asks for it.”
How you can help the vaccination effort today
If you are eligible for the vaccine, take the first vaccine available.
Share the eligibility checker at https://vaccinateca.com/checklist widely; many of your friends and relatives in California who are eligible as of today do not know it yet. Encourage them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The faster the line moves, the faster everyone gets to get their shot.
Many vaccination-related efforts need volunteers. Consider volunteering at a local medical site through My Turn Volunteer or collecting information for Californians with VaccinateCA at https://vaccinateca.com/volunteer.