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What you need to know about California's new age-based vaccination system

The changes were announced amid criticism the state has not rolled out coronavirus vaccines fast enough.

SAN DIEGO — California will eliminate part of its phased vaccination approach and replace it with an age-based system. The move could potentially push some younger essential workers further back in line although specifics about the new rollout were not immediately released. The changes were announced amid criticism the state has not rolled out coronavirus vaccines fast enough although state health officials say distribution remains constrained by limited supply.

“[This] will allow us to scale up much more quickly and get vaccines to impacted communities. We're not losing sight of any of those fundamentals, any of our values, but we realize we have got to increase throughput here,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “Remember, 75% of the deaths are reflected in people 65 and older.”

The age-based approach could eventually ease the strain on hospitals because older people are more likely to suffer the worst effects of COVID-19. 

The state will continue to prioritize seniors 65-years-old and older, healthcare workers, first responders, food and agriculture workers, and school staff and teachers.

Other essential workers in IT, transportation, critical manufacturing and other industries were initially supposed to follow. However, the state will instead begin vaccinating people by age groups. Neither the exact groups nor potential exemptions, such as people with underlying health conditions, were released.

California Health and Human Services Agency is expected to release additional details about the plan Tuesday afternoon.

The shift came after gathering feedback from public health officers from across the state.  

“We have made it clear that we will continue with the phases and the tiers that have been identified. Switching only to an age-based prioritization will be confusing for our general public because there are also essential workers that need to be vaccinated,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H. San Diego County’s health officer when asked what input she provided to the state. 

San Diego is still trying to vaccinate 1.2 million seniors and healthcare workers who already qualify to receive the coronavirus vaccine. At least 235,000 doses have been given although the number could be significantly higher because providers have up to two weeks to notify the county a vaccine has been given.  

Under the new system, hundreds of thousands of residents in education, emergency services and food and agriculture must also be vaccinated before the age-based system begins.

“When that's completed, we will let you know what the current guidance is,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “It may change again between now and then, but we have plenty [to vaccinate] ahead of us.” 

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