Health

With unused COVID-19 vaccines, Riverside and Kern counties expand eligibility to 16 and up


Hundreds of thousands of Californians 16 and older are becoming eligible for COVID-19 vaccines this week as counties and health systems across the state expand eligibility ahead of schedule.

Officials in Riverside and Kern counties made the surprise announcement Monday. UC Davis Health in Sacramento said it plans to follow suit Wednesday.

“This is really important news,” Riverside County spokeswoman Brooke Federico said. “It’s really something we’ve been waiting for for some time to show that we can open up eligibility to all of our residents who are available to get it per the manufacturer — and again, continue to move forward, move out of this pandemic.”

All three changes arrive in advance of California’s plan to expand statewide eligibility to residents 16 and older beginning April 15.

Officials in Kern County attributed the change to an increase in supplies and a slowing of vaccine appointments.

Approximately 46% of Kern’s 65 and older population is now fully vaccinated, compared with 34% statewide. The county expects to receive more than 39,000 doses this week.

Kern County resident Natalie Frieson, 24, said the expansion was a welcome change.

“It means we can get back to a normal society much sooner, and hopefully less vaccines will expire,” she said.

Appointments are available at the Kern County Fairgrounds mass vaccination site this week, officials said, and can be booked through the state’s My Turn system.

“I’m very relieved to know that our public health officials realized that we were able to expand the eligibility before the state’s date of April 15 when they could have decided to just wait the extra week,” Frieson said.

Over the last seven days, Kern County reported an average of 50 COVID-19 new cases per day — a 41% decrease from two weeks ago.

Farther north in Sacramento, officials with UC Davis Health also announced plans to expand vaccine eligibility to residents 16 and older this week.

“Our decision to expand vaccine opportunities stems from the fact that over the past few days, we found that we were not getting enough people from the state’s My Turn website and other places to fill all of our available appointments,” UC Davis Health spokesman Charles Casey said Tuesday. “So we made a decision to move to the next level to ensure we were using all of the vaccines that we have.”

Anyone 16 and older will be eligible through the university system starting Wednesday. The rest of Sacramento County remains on track to expand to the wider group April 15.

Officials in Riverside, one of California’s largest counties, attributed their expansion to an increase in supplies. Last week, the county administered its 1 millionth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“More vaccine is available now, and opening eligibility will move us even further toward our goal of vaccinating the majority of our residents,” said Karen Spiegel, the county’s Second District supervisor. “Vaccine works best when the majority of the population takes it.”

The expansion coincides with Riverside County advancing to the orange tier of the state’s color-coded reopening system. Although COVID-19 numbers remain significantly lower than during the autumn and winter surge, the county is reporting a slight uptick in cases, particularly among residents 18 to 40.

Over the last seven days, Riverside saw an average of 195 new COVID-19 cases per day, a 59% increase from two weeks ago, according to The Times tracker.

“The expansion of eligibility will allow the last large group of Riverside County adult residents to get vaccinated, and bring us one step closer to herd immunity,” Riverside County public health director Kim Saruwatari said in a statement. “Bringing the vaccine to a younger population, where we have seen an increase in cases, is a big step forward.”

Riverside County residents rejoiced at the news.

“I’m very pleased about the expansion to all adults,” Liz Madsen, 44, of Hemet said Tuesday. “The more people who get vaccinated the better, especially right now as cases are on the upswing.”

Madsen said she was able to book an appointment for her Moderna shot at Tahquitz High School easily.

“I spent the past year worrying about how hard it would be to get the vaccine, but it was so easy, it was almost anticlimactic,” she said. “My whole household will be fully vaccinated on April 30, and we are so incredibly relieved and excited.”

Residents ages 16 and 17 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine but will need to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to get vaccinated, officials said. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available to those 18 and older.

As of Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of appointment slots were open throughout Riverside County, including sites at the Palm Springs Convention Center and Indio Fairgrounds.




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