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California begins allowing vaccinations for everyone age 16 and up

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As California began offering vaccinations to everyone age 16 and over Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged more residents to sign up for appointments and not let apprehension over inoculations get in the way of protecting themselves against the illness.

Nearly half of Californians eligible for vaccination have received at least one shot against the coronavirus, Newsom said as the country’s most populous state began vaccinating everyone, regardless of occupation or health condition.

It comes as California and other states have seen vaccine supplies rise in recent weeks, despite the recent pause of the use of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine as U.S. government health advisers evaluate whether a handful of unusual blood clots were linked to the shot.

“I don’t care where you get it. I just want you to get it,” Newsom said of the vaccine at a news conference in Union City, California.

California has seen coronavirus cases plummet from a deadly fall and winter surge. About 2,300 people are hospitalized with the virus, compared with nearly 10 times as many earlier in the year, Newsom said. The state’s seven-day positivity rate for new coronavirus cases is 1.7%.

Vaccine push

California has administered 24 million doses of vaccine and is pushing residents to get the shot through community outreach, mobile clinics and public service announcements, including what Newsom said is a new $40 million Spanish-language campaign emphasizing that vaccines are safe and effective.

“We’re in the fourth quarter unquestionably. But this game’s not done yet,” Newsom said.

As vaccine supplies have risen, many residents have had an easier time getting the shot. Several counties previously opened up eligibility to people 16 years and older after seeing appointments go unfilled, and the rest of the state followed suit on Thursday.

Before opening up vaccinations to younger people, University of California, Davis Health had as many as 1,500 unfilled appointments a day. It is now booked for the week and continues to see strong demand for the shot, said Marianne Russ Sharp, a UC Davis Health spokeswoman. Sonoma County officials reported overwhelming demand swamped supply.

In San Bernardino County, which expanded eligibility last week, vaccine slots that used to be snapped up in minutes now might take days to fill, but they don’t go unused.

“The county has seen that it takes longer to fill appointments than in the past,” said David Wert, a county spokesman. “But they all get filled.”

That isn’t the case in nearby Riverside County, where county health officials said as many as 900 vaccine appointments go unfilled each day. The county of 2.5 million people has seen a jump in vaccinations of younger people since expanding eligibility, but it still has more doses than demand, said Michael Osur, assistant director of Riverside County Public Health. He added that about 39 percent of eligible residents have received at least one shot.

“The people who wanted to get vaccinated, the people who were clamoring to get vaccinated, got vaccinated,” Osur said. “Every week we have thousands of appointments that are going unfilled.” The county has launched a survey to try to find out why, he said.

‘Demand isn’t there’

In Fresno, where only about half of available vaccination slots are being filled, Fresno County Division Health Manager Joe Prado said “the demand isn’t there and so supply is no longer an issue really.”

Fresno County health officer Dr. Rais Vohra said Thursday they are considering using some incentives that other counties have implemented to get people vaccinated, including free lunches or coupons.

“This would be just an extra incentive, just to convince them to spend a little bit of time with us to get their vaccine,” he said.

Public health officials have been working to overcome barriers to accessing the vaccine in underserved communities and addressing vaccine hesitancy.

Newsom said the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine affects only 4% of California’s vaccine supplies, with most residents receiving two-dose vaccine regimens from Pfizer and Moderna. But some community members have raised concerns about the effect it could have on the public’s overall willingness to get the shot.

Health concerns

Debra Schade, director of the California School Boards Association, said the rare but serious blood clot problems being investigated are spurring questions from parents concerned whether the shots bring the potential of long-term reproductive health issues for their daughters, now that those age 16 and up are eligible.

“I think there’s a level of hesitancy that you’re not aware of,” she told top state health officials Wednesday during a meeting of the Community Vaccine Advisory Committee.

Newsom echoed health officials in noting the rarity of the problems being investigated and the relative benefits of being vaccinated compared with the dangers of the deadly infection. But he acknowledged hesitancy cuts across all demographic boundaries and can be spurred by residents’ political leanings.

“We still have hesitancy in all communities,” he said. “We have to work across all that spectrum.”

Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, told health officials Wednesday that residents have also raised concerns about costs, though the vaccine is free.

“People are used to not thinking health care is free, right, so I think it’s taking a lot to make sure people understand, even if you don’t have insurance, even if you’re undocumented, the vaccine is free,” she said.

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