Sacramento health care providers on Tuesday provided the first COVID-19 vaccines for people in the general public age 75 and up, marking a notable expansion of the so-far bumpy month-long roll out of virus inoculations in California.
UC Davis Health and Sutter Health, two of the capital region’s largest health systems, were the first to announce shots for that older cohort. Davis began giving the shots to its patients Tuesday afternoon, focused on elderly patients with acute health issues. Sutter said it planned to start shots for its patients age 75 and older this week.
Until now, vaccines in California have only been available to hospital workers, first responders such as paramedics, and elderly residents of skilled nursing homes, which have proven to be the epicenter of the 11-month pandemic.
The expansion of vaccines to people over age 75 came amid news that federal officials are planning to green light states to give shots to people age 65 and up, as well as people of all ages who have notable underlying conditions that could cause more severe COVID-19 infections.
The goal is to speed up vaccinations after three weeks of limited distribution.
California health director Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state’s vaccination advisory group was meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss the potential guideline changes and will report back within 24 hours. He suggested the state likely will agree to move more quickly toward vaccinating people age 65 and up.
“The first step is to have our very thoughtful expert teams go through the new guidance, understand how it’s going to cause us to make some changes and then put those out there to you as soon as we can,” Ghaly said.
“I think it is going to help California a great deal,” he added.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, City Councilman Eric Guerra and several community groups on Tuesday called on the city and county to offer progress reports on where vaccinations stand for poorer and more at-risk ethnic groups, saying he fears that those people could get lost or left behind in the jostling for a place in line.
“As the incoming Biden Administration aims to vaccinate 100 million persons in its first 100 days, we must ensure that we have frameworks and partnerships in place so that everyone in our communities has access to vaccinations,” Guerra said.
California notably has lagged other states in the first month since vaccinations were launched on Dec. 15. According to federal tracking data published online by Bloomberg, California ranks third worst among states in the country in percentage of its doses that have been administered to patients.
The state has received 3.3 million doses, but had delivered only 816,000 shots as of Tuesday. Only Alabama and Georgia had lower injection rates per dosage.
Ghaly said Gov. Gavin Newsom has established a goal to get another 1 million vaccines done by the weekend, calling it “an all hands on deck” moment. He added California has been thoughtful while trying to focus on risk, exposure and equity, which “has led to some delays in getting vaccine out into our communities.”
Senior patients get COVID vaccine
At the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento Tuesday, the first older patients from the general population began getting vaccinations. First in line was Jesus Espindola, 80, of Colusa, a former rice mill operator who has had to go to the hospital more than a dozen times in the last three years with heart and lung issues.
Espindola, speaking Spanish, said he had been eager for months to get the vaccine, telling his daughter to call UC Health to get him in line. He gave a thumbs up and his eyes crinkled above his mask as he got his shot.
“I want to live longer,” he said, translated by his daughter Grace Trujillo. “I thank the lord. The vaccine is giving us an opportunity to live our lives.”
Jim Clark, 86, a U.S. Army veteran who lives in Folsom, was second in line, saying that he will probably take up some new hobbies when life gets back to normal. “I’m so damn tired of my computer and my TV,” he said, laughing. “I think I’m going to throw them out.”
UC Davis Health is giving the shots only to patients who are part of the UC Health system. Those are by appointment only. People who get health care from doctors affiliated with other systems, such Kaiser, Sutter and Dignity, should look for vaccination updates from their providers.
UC Davis Health officials say they expect to vaccinate as many as 850 people per day, focused first on people who are 75 and older. It plans to expand the program soon to give shots at multiple locations around the Sacramento area.
UC Davis Chief Medical Officer J. Douglas Kirk said Davis will need many more doses from the federal government to continue the 75-plus inoculation program. The health care provider has 23,000 people in that age group in its 33 Northern California counties, he said.
Meanwhile, Sutter Health sent an email last week to members saying it will begin offering shots as early as this week to patients who are 75 and older, and to other non-hospital health care workers.
Those who want the vaccine will be required to make appointments through Sutter’s My Health Online program. For now, those vaccines will be offered at Sutter clinics, not at Sutter doctors’ offices.
Dr. Rob Azevedo, physician-in-chief for Kaiser Permanente in the Sacramento region, said his group has compiled a list of its members who are 75 and older to contact when Kaiser gets the go-ahead to offer vaccinations to that group.
Kaiser will alert member patients via emails and other communications. Kaiser will tell members to make an appointment to get a shot at one of its clinics. But, Azevedo said, because the task is large, “we are looking for a larger space” to rent.