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When Can I Get A COVID-19 Vaccine? How Will I Find Out? Answers To Your California Vaccine Questions

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Jae C. Hong
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AP Photo

Updated March 14

While California started vaccinating health care workers and other high-risk residents in December, there are still a lot of questions about who will get vaccinated when as the state's rollout continues to expand. 

Over time, California has shifted the groups eligible to receive the vaccine and when, with many potential ways for residents to sign up for a dose. The process has been frustrating for many. 

Below, find our best answers to how the state is handling the roll-out (see the state's vaccine website here) but know that the details are changing. We will continue to update this page as new information comes out.

Have a question that isn't answered below? Let us know here.

Who is eligible to get vaccinated right now?

 
In many counties, health providers and long-term care facility residents who were first in line have already been vaccinated. California is currently in Phase 1B, which includes teachers, emergency services employees, food and agricultural workers and people over 65.

Initially, only people over 75 were in this tier, but people 65 and older were bumped up on Jan. 25. Here are more details from the state health department on which jobs qualify.

Beginning March 15, health care providers may use their clinical judgment to vaccinate individuals ages 16-64 who are deemed to be at the very highest risk for disease and death from COVID-19 as a direct result of one or more of the severe health conditions outlined by the state.

But what tier your county is vaccinating depends heavily on how many doses they have on hand. 

What has changed in the state’s tier system since January?

The California Department of Public Health announced Jan. 14 that people 65 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine. People 65 and older were originally in a lower tier but have been moved up.

On Monday Jan. 25, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that vaccine priority will be determined only by age, not by occupation or underlying condition. This means that after everyone in Phase 1A and the first tier of Phase 1B has been vaccinated — people over 65, food and agricultural workers, educators and public safety employees — the state will announce that people in certain age brackets are eligible.

On Feb. 12 the state also announced that people with some severe health conditions would be eligible to start receiving vaccinations starting March 15

This means that people who were originally in the second tier of phase 1B and in phase 1C are no longer being prioritized. Those groups included:

  • Workers in homeless shelters, jails and prisons
  • Workers in transportation and manufacturing
  • Workers in communications, defense, financial services and government functions

On March 1 the state shifted management of its vaccine distribution to Blue Shield, with counties beginning to move to the new system, though as of March 12 many counties were negotiating how or if they would take part in the plan.

On March 3 officials announced 40% of all COVID-19 vaccine doses would go to the communities hit hardest by the pandemic, based on neighborhoods in the bottom 25% of its Healthy Places Index.

On March 11, the state provided clarifications on some individuals eligible for vaccination, including people who reside in high-risk congregate settings, public transit workers, janitors, massage therapists, informal childcare workers, utility workers and more.

How can you get the vaccine if you're eligible?

How to get a vaccine and which groups are being prioritized is different depending which county you live in. 

For example, Sacramento County is currently vaccinating people older than 65, education and childcare workers, food and agricultural workers, health care and emergency services personnel, and licensed caregivers. Find more details on the county's vaccine information site here.

A COVID-19 vaccine clinic is open near McClellan Park, and eligible residents can sign up here. There is also a website for people 65 and older in Sacramento County to sign up for vaccine appointments here.

For more information, contact the county by  email at COVIDVaccine@saccounty.net or call the hotline at 916-875-3400. 

Here are some vaccine information sites for other nearby counties:

As of Feb. 11, CVS is also scheduled vaccination appointments for people 65 and older at 100 locations in California. You can check availability and sign up for an appointment here. Walk-ins are not accepted.

As of Feb. 12, RiteAid is also scheduling vaccination appointments for people 65 and older at some locations in California. You can check availability and sign up for an appointment here. Walk-ins are not accepted.

As of Feb. 9, Walgreens is also scheduling vaccination appointments for people 65 and older at some locations in California. You can check availability and sign up for an appointment here. Walk-ins are not accepted.

California has launched a statewide website where residents can sign up to be notified when they can get a vaccine in a number of counties.

The site, called MyTurn, also offers appointment scheduling in some counties. It’s expected to improve as more counties get connected to the platform. 

California is also offering a telephone hotline for appointments — in multiple languages — to help reach Californians without internet access at (833) 422-4255.

There is also an independently run directory of clinics and health systems administering the vaccine, including information about how to make an appointment. This directory was created by volunteers who are calling individual locations every 36 hours to find out what vaccines are available and for whom. CapRadio has not verified the information on this site. 

What groups is the state recommending get the vaccine, and in what order?

After everyone in Phase 1A and the first tier of Phase 1B is vaccinated, the state will announce new eligibility groups by age. Currently, people age 65 and older, certain frontline workers and people with some severe health conditions are eligible for the vaccine. The state has not announced which age group will be next. 

The age-based framework will be coupled with a vaccine distribution approach that prioritizes disproportionately impacted communities, places and people to ensure those eligible for vaccines within these communities are more likely to receive it.

Phase 1A

Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities are getting the vaccine first. That process started in December 2020.There are three tiers within that phase, sorted by what type of facility the worker is in:

Tier 1

  • Workers in acute care, psychiatric and correctional facility hospitals
  • Workers in skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and similar settings for older or medically vulnerable individuals
  • Residents in these settings
  • Paramedics, EMTs and others providing emergency medical services
  • Workers in dialysis centers

Tier 2

  • Workers in Intermediate care facilities for people who need non-continuous nursing supervision and supportive care
  • Home health care and in-home supportive services
  • Community health workers, including promotoras
  • Public health field staff
  • Primary Care clinics, including Federally Qualified Health Centers, Rural Health Centers, correctional facility clinics, and urgent care clinics

Tier 3

  • Specialty clinics
  • Laboratory workers
  • Dental and other oral health clinics
  • Pharmacy staff not working in settings at higher tiers

Phase 1B

The state is recommending that hospitals and health departments administer vaccines to people in Phase 1A and Phase 1B concurrently during January and February. 

As of Jan. 25, California has moved people ages 65 and older into Tier 1.

Tier 1

  • Individuals 65 and older (changed Jan. 25 to add people 65-74)
  • Workers in education, childcare, emergency services*, and food and agriculture. 
    *Emergency services includes law enforcement, corrections, search and rescue, 911 call center employees, workers in disaster prevention, workers maintaining equipment supporting these groups, workers responding to child, elder, and dependent adult abuse, utility workers, social workers and disaster services workers

Here are more details from the state health department on which jobs qualify.

Do you need to be a resident of a county to get the vaccine there?

Each county is making their own decisions on who to vaccinate and whether to factor in what county someone lives in — there is no statewide guidance on this. In Sacramento County, people are being offered the vaccine based on where they work, or where they are a patient. So for example, if you live in Yolo County but you work or are a resident at a Sacramento County long-term care facility, you can still get vaccinated in Sacramento.

How do underlying conditions impact when you get the vaccine, and what qualifies?

On Feb. 12 state health officials announced that people 16 to 64 years old with certain severe health conditions would be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting March 15.

Here’s a list of those health conditions, according to the state’s health department:

  • 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 greater than 40 kg/m2)
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5%

The state’s guidance also says that those in that age group could be eligible if, “as a result of developmental or other severe high-risk disability” the individual could die from COVID-19, stop receiving health care services that are “vital to their well-being and survival” or if getting COVID-19 care would be too challenging.
Medical providers will have the discretion to determine a patient’s eligibility. State health officials said the list of eligible conditions could change based on scientific data and analysis.

What is the state’s best estimate on when people outside of these groups will have access to a vaccine?

As of March 5, the state’s vaccine website says that "Every Californian 16 and up will have access to vaccines this spring," but that may change depending on vaccine production and how quickly other vaccines become available.

How is California deciding who gets the vaccine first?

California has a Drafting Guidelines Workgroup that’s developing guidance for how to prioritize allocation of vaccines. This group is housed within the California Department of Public Health and chaired by the chief of the department’s immunization branch and a past president of the National Medical Association. Its membership is made up of leaders from hospitals, academic institutions and health departments throughout the state.

There is also a Community Vaccine Advisory Committee made of representatives from dozens of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, California Teachers Association and Disability Rights California, that looks over the state’s recommendations. The group holds virtual, public meetings to discuss priority groups and the reports back to the state.

The state is also trying to monitor equity in vaccine coverage by comparing what percentage of people have been vaccinated in vulnerable communities versus the percent vaccinated in less vulnerable communities. The committee has proposed using a tool called the Healthy Places Index to track these trends.

I’m a health worker or a member of another priority group and I haven’t gotten a vaccine. What should I do?

Reach out to your local health department, they should be tracking calls that come in from eligible residents. If you’re a health provider that is part of a professional society, they may have additional information.

Find contact information for every California county health department here.

How many vaccine doses have been distributed in California so far?

Here are the latest figures from the California Department of Public Health:

 

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Are there any safety issues with the vaccine?

Scientists at both the federal and state level have determined that the vaccine is safe and should be administered — except not to children under 16, people who are pregnant or people who are allergic to any of the ingredients in the drug. Though there have been documented side effects, vaccine experts say the benefits of taking the shot outweigh any potential negative consequences.

California created a Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, which began meeting in October to determine the safety of vaccines being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The group notes side effects associated with both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during clinical trials, but stated these were “not at a level of concern to change the recommendation that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.”

The group recommended that the federal government continue to monitor for side effects related to the vaccine. Neither therapeutic has been tested on pregnant women or children under age 16. People who are allergic to any component of either vaccine should not be vaccinated. There are special considerations for people who are immunocompromised. 

On March 2, the group also authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, finding it to be safe and effective.

What are the known side effects so far, both short and long term?

In clinical trials, adverse reactions to the Moderna vaccine included pain and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, soreness, chills, nausea and fever.  

Data from the Pfizer clinical trials found the following most common short-term side effects:

  • Pain at injection site (84.1%)

  • Fatigue (62.9%)

  • Headache (55.1%)

  • Muscle pain (38.3%)

  • Chills (31.9%)

  • Joint pain (23.6%)

  • Fever (14.2%)

  • Injection site swelling (10.5%)

  • Injection site redness (9.5%)

  • Nausea (1.1%)

  • Malaise (0.5%)

  • Lymphadenopathy (0.3%)

In clinical trials, 64 of 38,000 people who received the Pfizer vaccine experienced lymphadenopathy (a disease of the lymph nodes), lasting for 10 days on average, which the CDC says is “plausibly related” to the vaccine. Four participants developed a type of facial paralysis called Bell’s palsy, which the CDC stated was not likely caused by the shot.
There were no documented severe allergic reactions among the 38,000 participants in the Pfizer trial or the 30,000 participants in the Moderna phase three trial. Still, the CDC says health workers should not immunize individuals with a known history of severe allergic reaction to any component of either vaccine. 

The most common side effects of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are pain, redness and swelling at the injection site and tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.

As of Jan. 26, 2021, 29 people in the U.S. had experienced a severe allergic reaction, and none had died. These reactions were from both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, and were not clustered geographically. A January CDC report estimated the rate of anaphylaxis at 11 cases per 1 million doses given, which is higher than the flu shot. The majority of anaphylactic reactions happen within the first 15 minutes of the shot, so health workers are urged to have epinephrine on hand and monitor the patient after immunizing.