Californians with chronic illness, some frontline workers will wait longer under new COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We're learning new information about who will get the COVID-19 vaccine and when. The state announced earlier this week it would transition to a new age-based prioritization strategy next month after the current phase is complete.

However, people with chronic health conditions and some frontline workers are in the dark about what that means for them.

ABC7 News Race and Culture reporter Julian Glover spoke with California's surgeon general Wednesday to get answers.

"Yes, we are asking you to wait a little longer," said California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris.


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After Phase 1B, Tier 1 is complete, vaccinating agricultural workers, teachers, and people 65 and older, the state will determine who gets the shot next based on age, not health or risk of exposure.

"I've been afraid I will die if I get the disease," said Charis Hill, a disability activist in California. "My will is sitting on my entrance table, and it's very real reality for me. The vaccine is vital."

The shift by the state is angering people with underlying conditions like Hill. Until this week they knew their place in line.

Hill fell in Phase 1C because of a chronic condition, their treatment suppresses their immune system making it tough to stay healthy.

They are one of more than 7,500 Californians who took to Twitter with the hashtag #HighRiskCA to share their stories.


"I was thinking I might get the vaccine in February, maybe early March. But now I have no idea," said Hill.

"I want to be very transparent and say they will be later down the line in receiving the vaccine unless they meet the age criteria," said Dr. Burke Harris.

The surgeon general cited age being the strongest predictor of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Dr. Burke Harris also said that once the new strategy is in place by mid-February and after the current cohorts are done being vaccinated, the state will begin announcing on a weekly basis which age brackets will be up next to receive the shot.

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Since the coronavirus started spreading across the globe in late 2019, scientists have been looking for a vaccine. Now that vaccines are proven, it will ultimately be up to each state to determine who will get the vaccine, and when?



How many people and which ages will be allowed to get the vaccine will be determined by the flow of vaccine supply from the federal government.

The surgeon general also added at the current rate that vaccine is rolling into the state from the federal government, it could take at least another two months for everyone in the current age and occupational cohorts to receive the vaccine.

The shift to age-based prioritization, expected next month, bumps transportation workers out of line.

"We were shocked, disappointed," said John Courtney, president of ATU Local 265.

ATU Local 265 is the union that represents about 1500 VTA bus drivers, light rail operators and mechanics.

Courtney said there have been 61 VTA employees that have tested positive for the virus in just the month of January.

The union is now asking VTA to reverse course and reinstate rear boarding on buses to decrease driver exposure to the virus.

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"We've kind of felt like second class citizens all along, where they would mention all the other frontline workers, the transportation workers were hardly ever mentioned. But someone has to take those folks to the hospitals, to the grocery stores, for work or for treatment or to shop," said Courtney.

For now the message from the state is to sit tight.

"We asked folks to really understand that we're in kind of a bind, given the limited vaccine," said Dr. Burke Harris. "We're also hoping to see more vaccines will make it through approval from the FDA so we'll have a greater supply point."

ABC7 News reported on a Kaiser Family Foundation data analysis that found alarming racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations in the 16 states currently reporting such data.

White residents in the majority of the state analyzed are being vaccinated at significantly higher rates than Black and Latino or Hispanic residents, in many cases two to three times higher.

California is currently not one of the states reporting disaggregated data by race and ethnicity.

Dr. Burke Harris said, however, in mid-February when California announces the new third-party administrator that will take the lead on how the vaccine is administered and allocated the state will start collecting and reporting such data.

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