Patients enter Levi’s Stadium to receive Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 9 2021 in Santa Clara. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters.


Californians with high-risk medical conditions will qualify for COVID-19 vaccines starting March 15, the state’s health secretary announced today.

Under the state’s previous guidelines, people with chronic conditions did not qualify for vaccinations until people 65 and older, first responders, food industry workers and educators were vaccinated. That amounted to almost 15 million Californians who were eligible before those with severe, chronic conditions and disabilities could sign up.

Under the new guidelines, people ages 16 to 64 with high-risk conditions — such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes, cancer and weakened immune systems — or with developmental disabilities will join older Californians, food workers and educators beginning March 15.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said at a press briefing today that delaying for a month will allow the state to build its vaccine supply, develop ways to determine eligibility and figure out how to reach people who are homebound.

Advocates for the disabled and people with serious medical conditions had criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom for failing to prioritize some of California’s most vulnerable residents, saying he was sacrificing equity for speed.

California until last month had included people with disabilities or chronic medical conditions in the same priority group as Californians between the ages of 65 and 74. They were listed in the tier just behind people aged 75 and older. But the state moved to prioritize vaccinations primarily by age, targeting those 65 and older. That meant medically vulnerable people were left behind.

State officials have listed the severe health conditions in an advisory for providers, including:

  • Cancer, current with debilitated or immunocompromised state
  • Chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above
  • Chronic pulmonary disease, oxygen dependent
  • Down syndrome
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies (excludes hypertension)
  • Severe obesity (body mass index ≥ 40 kg/m2)
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5%

The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends that people with underlying conditions, including heart and kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, weakened immune systems, Down syndrome and obesity, receive the vaccine alongside those aged 65-74. But states are allowed to adjust those priorities.

Other states vary in how they prioritize people with health conditions.

New York will start vaccinating people with high-risk conditions, including pregnancy and developmental disabilities, on Monday. Florida currently vaccinates people considered by hospital providers to be “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19 along with those 65 and older. In contrast, Kansas has placed people under 65 with high-risk conditions behind people 65 and older, prisoners and those living in “congregate settings” that aren’t nursing homes.


CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.