Californians struggle to get COVID-19 vaccine appointments as eligibility explodes

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Vaccine eligibility expanded Monday to include more than four million Californians with severe health conditions and disabilities, but limited appointments filled up so fast those eligible struggled to secure a spot.

"I don't know what to do," said Bay Area native Heather Kelly. "I can't find anything."

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Kelly is diagnosed with Lymphoma. Her son Jack is autistic and recently underwent brain surgery. Despite qualifying as high risk, she can't find an appointment in Contra Costa County or the greater Bay Area.

"He has comorbidities, I'm worried about him," Kelly said.

Kaiyomarz Mohta is in a similar situation in Alameda County.

"It says I'm eligible," he said. "But, that's it."
Mohta made twelve attempts since Friday to secure an appointment.

"I can't find anything even within a 50-mile radius," Mohta said.

ABC7 checked appointment availability in every Bay Area county starting Monday at 6 a.m. Most locations that pop up are pharmacies. Our team received the same notice every time that indicated no availability and suggested people check back later. The only location we could briefly make an appointment was in Fairfield.

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There are increasing signs from state health officials that California won't move to the next tier of COVID vaccine eligibility for at least a month.

"It shouldn't be difficult for them," said Mike Wasserman.

Wasserman sits on California's Vaccine Advisory Committee. He argues opening up the high-risk phase all at once isn't the most effective strategy.

"We might put more impediments in the way for people who are at the most risk from getting vaccinated," he said. "We need to be careful."

The state warned a majority of appointments wouldn't be immediately available due to supply constraints. For example, the Moscone Center has the capacity to administer up to 15,000 shots per day, but San Francisco as a whole is only averaging 5,000 shots per day.

"I hope that changes quickly," said San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney. "They've really been opening up appointments on a daily basis in many cases, so I hope that at Moscone we do see more appointments available tonight and tomorrow morning."

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Meantime, it's the luck of the draw for the millions eligible like Kelly.

"I just keep refreshing the page," she said hoping for a cancellation.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health only controls 30 percent of the vaccine that comes into the city. The remaining 70 percent is allocated from the state and federal government to healthcare providers like Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health.

"It's become clear that by early summer we will have enough vaccine for the vast majority of people. That will result in more flexibility," Wasserman said. "I think we need some patience right now."

Starting Monday, if you're 16 to 64 years old with one of the following conditions you are eligible for the vaccine:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above
  • Chronic pulmonary disease
  • Down syndrome
  • Immunocompromised state from organ transplant
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Heart conditions (heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies; excludes hypertension)
  • Severe obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Other developmental or high-risk disabilities that put an individual at especially high risk

That last bullet point makes things a little fuzzy. Essentially any individual whose health is deemed "at risk" by a health care provider could qualify.

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