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

Jan 11, 2021

Christie Aiello, left and Denise Gomez prepare the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for medical workers at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.
Credit Jae C. Hong / AP Photo

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. Here's what we know so far.

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

A state workgroup has come up with phases for vaccine distribution based on which Californians are most at risk for contracting COVID-19, who is dying at the highest rates and what jobs are most essential. Health care workers and long-term care staff and residents are first, followed by other frontline workers (education, agriculture, emergency services) and people over 65. The last planned phase includes people aged 50 to 65, and workers in fields such as defense, hazardous materials and government operations. Each phase has tiers that further indicate priority.

Here is who is included in each phase, and when the state expects to vaccinate people in each phase. The dates are estimates based on a state report given in December and will vary by county. See more details about expected dates for each phase here.

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

After Phase 1A, health departments and hospitals will move onto Phase 1B, which could start in January or February 2021. It contains two tiers:

Tier 1

  • Individuals 75 and older
  • 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, and workers responding to child, elder, and dependent adult abuse.

Tier 2

  • Individuals 65-74 years of age
  • Workers in transportation and logistics, industrial, commercial, residential and sheltering facilities and services, critical manufacturing
  • Workers and residents in congregate settings with outbreak risk, such as jails, prisons and homeless shelters

Phase 1C

Phase 1C includes the following groups, and is expected to start between February and spring 2021.

  • Individuals 50-64 years of age
  • People age 16-64 with an underlying condition that puts them at greater risk of severe COVID-19
  • Workers in water and wastewater, defense, energy, chemical and hazardous materials, communications and IT, financial services, government operations and community-based essential functions.

The proposed phase 2 would include people age 16 to 64 without underlying medical conditions, but that phase has not been broken into tiers.

When will different groups of people get the vaccine?

In a Dec. 23 presentation, the state’s Community Vaccine Advisory Committee estimated the following distribution dates to different groups:

➔ Phase 1A : December

➔ Phase 1B: January

➔ Phase 1B/1C: February

➔ Phase 1C/2: Spring/Summer

That timeline will vary by county, as each region of the state has a different population of workers in certain eligible sectors. The timeline is also contingent on how often the state gets allocations of vaccine doses from the federal government.

If a health department is getting through a tier quickly and has more supplies available, they can vaccinate multiple tiers at once but should coordinate with the state about available supplies before taking on a new tier or moving onto the next phase.
As of Jan. 4, Sacramento County is vaccinating only health workers in the first tier of Phase 1A, and expects to stay on that group through January. They have not yet provided a ballpark date for moving to the second tier of Phase 1A.

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

The state’s vaccine website says that Spring 2021 is the “best estimate” for the general public getting vaccinated, but that may change depending on vaccine production and how quickly other vaccines become available.

State health officials have said they expect the general public will have access to vaccines in early summer.

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.

How can I find out about vaccine availability in my area?

If it is your turn to get the vaccine, your county health department, doctor or employer should be reaching out to you.

There is not a central place where you can find out what phase and what tier your county is on, or how much vaccine is available in your area. Vaccine doses allotted to the state are administered by region. You can find out how many doses have been administered by your region here.

How are counties identifying people who are eligible for vaccination during each stage?

Since the first tier of Phase 1A covers hospital workers and both residents and staff at long-term care facilities, counties are largely relying on the institutions receiving the doses to create a list of employees or clients that need the vaccine, and to track who’s gotten it and who hasn’t.

City and county health departments should be doing outreach to other providers who qualify for Phase 1A, such as behavioral health workers and dentists, through social media and professional societies.

The next few tiers will involve working with schools to locate educators, sending teams out to fields to find farmworkers and "combing the internet” for home health providers, urgent care providers and others who need to be added to lists for vaccination, according to acting state health officer Dr. Erica Pan.

Counties are vaccinating people based on where they work, not where they live. So for example, a nurse who lives in Yolo County but works in Sacramento County would be vaccinated in Sacramento.

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.