Nurse Lynnen Svensson, left, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from medical reserve corps nurse Katherine Ambrose at a drive-thru distribution site at Cal Expo in Sacramento on Jan. 21, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters


Educators, childcare workers, food and farm workers and first responders will join Californians age 65 and over who have priority to qualify for the coronavirus vaccine, state officials announced today.

After that large group is vaccinated, the next priority group will be based on age — and middle-aged Californians are likely to be next in line.

The new statewide standard takes effect mid-February and will apply to all 58 counties in an effort to scale up California’s low vaccination rate. It’s unclear how long it will take to vaccinate this new group, but the announcement dovetails with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s effort to reopen schools and small businesses.

“In a well-meaning effort to achieve equity, we are creating systems so complex and messy that they can thwart the goal of equity. Simpler is better,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, who has advocated for a vaccine eligibility system based on age. “People at the highest risk of dying should come first.”

The new system emphasizes age rather than people with chronic medical conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, that make them vulnerable to severe effects of COVID-19.

“I am 22, disabled, and immunocompromised. Because of the pandemic, I no longer have access to regular medical care, and COVID-19 could kill me if I got it,” Stanford University student Ariela Algaze wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “Gavin Newsom just sent me to the back of the line to get vaccinated.”

The standards upend months of careful planning by a working group of experts convened by state health officials to develop statewide eligibility rules for counties. The group sought to develop a distribution order that balanced competing aims: vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible, keeping society functioning by protecting essential workers first and assuring fairness in distribution.

Some health advocates worried that that vaccine doses would not go first to people most at risk of contracting COVID-19 — primarily lower-income Latino and Black Californians – but rather to the wealthy and powerful.

Their concerns appear to be warranted: Racial disparities in vaccination rates have emerged nationwide, although it’s impossible to tell whether such disparities are occurring in California. The state has not publicly released vaccination rates by county, race or age, although it is required to report that data to the federal government.

Variety, an entertainment trade publication, reported that Hollywood elites have jetted to Florida where eligibility criteria are less strict, or sought vaccine from pricey “concierge” doctors. In the California desert city of Rancho Mirage, Eisenhower Medical Center invited wealthy donors – albeit over 65 – to be vaccinated at a “test clinic” not open to the public, the Desert Sun reported.

The eligibility guidelines come a day after Newsom ended the virtually statewide stay-at-home order and returned to the color-coded county reopening system launched last summer.

Outdoor dining, outdoor gym workouts and haircuts may soon resume in some counties, depending on the orders issued by local public health officers. Monday’s announcement took many business owners — and state lawmakers — by surprise.

For weeks, Newsom and other state officials have drawn withering criticism for a chaotic vaccine rollout in which they largely deferred logistics and eligibility decisions to counties.

Californians spent hours fruitlessly navigating online registration and notification systems managed by county and city governments, hospitals and even supermarkets — only to find there were no vaccine appointments available. Some online platforms have buckled under the strain, going dark for hours at a time.

Earlier this month, state officials quietly launched a statewide vaccine registration website called MyTurn ( allowing Californians to sign up to be notified when they are eligible for vaccination, and in some cases, register for an appointment. For now, the site is in pilot mode. While residents in some counties now can register to be notified of their turn, the site only allows appointment sign-ups in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

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