COVID-19 Vaccinations Start to Roll Out for California Seniors

This week, California started the process of opening up COVID-19 vaccinations to those age 65 and over. This is in addition to health care professionals and nursing home residents who have already been receiving shots.

We know you may have a lot of questions about when you or your loved one can access this life-saving vaccine. Health Access California has been advocating for an efficient and equitable distribution, and while there are still unanswered questions, here is what we know:

  1. How much will it cost? These vaccines should be provided at no cost to all, regardless of insurance or immigration status. If you receive a bill for these services, please contact your health provider or plan ASAP.
  2. Is the vaccine safe? The two vaccines currently being distributed have gone through a rigorous FDA approval process. California also convened top scientists to do a second round of review of the clinical trial results, and also recommended their use. The clinical trials included a diverse mix of races and ages, but did not test children or pregnant women.
  3. Where do I get vaccinated?
    1. Similar to the annual flu shot, most Californians will be vaccinated at health providers like hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, or pharmacies.
    2. In addition, counties are setting up pop-up and community vaccination sites. You may have been hearing about mass PODS (points of dispensing) such as Cal Expo, Dodger Stadium, and Disneyland. These sites will ramp up as public vaccination sites once doses are available.
  4. How will I know it’s my turn? How do I sign up?
    1. County health departments and health plan providers are moving quickly to set up their vaccination systems, but not everyone is online yet, and others are in different stages of administering the shots to prioritized populations. Some counties are taking appointments now, so check your county health website.
    2. If you are insured and have a regular medical provider (such as Sutter, Kaiser, Blue Shield, etc.), they should notify you directly about when you qualify and how to sign-up. Look out for an email or a phone call, or visit their website for more information.
    3. If you are uninsured or undocumented contact your county health department or check your local pharmacy or clinic.
    4. Some employers may also be providing information, especially for essential and exposed workers in key categories, starting with those at health providers and nursing homes, and then rolling out to education, child care, emergency services, food and agriculture, and eventually other sectors.
    5. The Governor also announced a new system to let people know if they are eligible to receive a vaccine, and if not yet eligible, to register for a notification via email or text when they are eligible. That system is expected to launch next week.

Overall we ask for patience. While more are coming, right now California has doses for a relatively small fraction of the state. Even if you are in a prioritized population, such as age 65 or older, don’t be surprised if you have to wait several more weeks to get an appointment. But depending on your county, pharmacy, or health provider, it could be sooner.

Even if it’s not your turn in line just yet, remember that prioritization of older Californians, who are the most likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID-19, reduces the stress on our health care and hospital system. This means more ICU beds available for everyone when we need them, for COVID-19 or any other health emergency.

As a member of the statewide Community Vaccine Advisory Committee Health Access is committed to the equitable distribution of the vaccine to all who need it. We will send more information as it becomes available!

Other questions and answers can be found on California’s Vaccinate all 58 website.