Getting the COVID-19 vaccination ball rolling in California has been a somewhat stilted process. Today’s announcement that the state has expanded eligibility is part of a plan to speed things up, but some confusion remains about what the update on guidance really means—or even how to book an appointment when the time comes. Here is what you need to know.
Who is eligible now?
Right now, counties are allowed to begin or continue distributing the vaccine to healthcare professionals, residents of long-term care facilities, inmates and staff at prisons, and individuals aged 65 and over. Phases to follow will prioritize at-risk workers in essential industries and younger individuals with underlying medical conditions, before ultimately being opened up to all adults and, eventually, children.
The state has around 2.5 million doses of the two-shot vaccine (meaning, enough for 1.25 million people to receive a full immunization) on hand. An estimated 6 million residents of the state are 65 or older, to say nothing of the millions who work in essential jobs. As of today, there is not enough supply to get to everyone, so counties are left to determine how to allocate what they actually have available.
Los Angeles County will be continuing to prioritize healthcare workers and other priority groups before moving on to the general population of elderly people. Officials estimate working through that population will still take several weeks, but hope to be able to expand eligibility in February.
In Long Beach, which has its own public health department separate from the rest of Los Angeles County, adults 65 and over as well as healthcare staff are currently eligible. Essential workers in food and grocery jobs become eligible on January 19, and education workers on January 25.
Pasadena, which also has a city health department, is currently vaccinating only healthcare workers and long-term care facility staff and residents. Seniors over 65 may submit an application to request an appointment, but they are not yet being scheduled.
How will I know when it’s my turn?
To receive updates, L.A. County’s Public Health has an email list sign-up on its website.
A general timeline provided by Public Health estimates that, by the end of March, at least the first shot should have been administered to everyone in Phase 1A and 1B. That would include healthcare workers; essential staff in food, agriculture, childcare, education, emergency services, transportation, and other sectors; incarcerated and homeless populations; and individuals aged 65 and up.
Phase 1C would then, in theory, begin in March. That would include all people ages 50 to 64, plus people ages 16 to 49 who have underlying health conditions or work in a second tier of essential jobs.
Once all of those people have received their shots, the county would then move on to Phase 2. That category, for the general public aged 16 to 49, is likely to begin receiving vaccinations around May or June.
The exact dates of each phase are likely to be adjusted, pending the efficiency of the rollout and rate of delivery of doses.
The state is also expected to roll out an online system that will provide text message notifications to individuals by next week. Individuals, particularly those with medical conditions that may put them at additional risk, are also encouraged to speak with their doctors for additional advice.
Once I’m eligible, how do I get a COVID vaccination?
When your phase arrives–and, remember, right now in Los Angeles, that is still only healthcare workers in Phase 1A–you can book your appointment online.
Once you verify that you qualify, you’ll be presented with appointments at a variety of settings across the county, including hospitals, chain grocery stores and pharmacies, recreation centers, and, as of later this week, Dodger Stadium. CVS pharmacies are also expected to begin offering appointments as supplies allow.
Private doctors’ offices may eventually receive doses to distribute to patients–some even invested in specialized freezers to accommodate the Pfizer vaccine, which requires extra-cold storage–but there’s not a clear timeline for that to begin. If small medical practices were to start receiving doses to administer before the phased distribution process reaches everyone, they would still need to adhere to relevant local guidelines.
For 1A vaccine recipients, the county requires bringing at least one of four types of documentation proving that you are, in fact, a healthcare professional. Options include an employee badge, pay stub, and professional license. What documentation may be required for other types of essential workers in future phases, or for younger adults who need the vaccine due to medical conditions which put them at risk, has not been confirmed, but is expected to be clarified by the time those groups come up.
At the appointment, you will be given a record of which COVID vaccination you received–and you’ll want to keep track of that. First and second doses of the vaccine must be of the same vaccine and cannot be mixed. That record will also tell you when you need to return to get your booster.
There will be no out-of-pocket payment required to receive a COVID vaccination.