California Puts People With Disabilities Back On COVID-19 Vaccine Priority List

After disability advocates pushed, people with health conditions that put them at high risk for severe cases of the coronavirus will soon be eligible for vaccines.

After disability advocates raised concerns about people with disabilities being moved off of California’s vaccine priority list, the state announced Friday that those with health conditions placing them at high risk for severe cases of the coronavirus will be eligible for the vaccine starting next month.

Starting March 15, people ages 16 and older who are “deemed to be at the very highest risk” for COVID-19 complications and death will be able to get vaccinated — including those who are immunocompromised, have cancer, chronic pulmonary disease, Type 2 diabetes or are pregnant, per the state department of health.

Late last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) drew outrage after the state changed its vaccine distribution strategy to inoculate people by age group. The state’s aim was to speed up distribution after an initially slow vaccine rollout. However, the age-based approach left by the wayside groups that were previously set to be up next on the vaccine priority list — including high-risk groups like people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and incarcerated people.

People with disabilities expressed worry and ire over the changes, and Bay-Area-based disability activist Alice Wong started the hashtag #HighRiskCA to amplify their concerns.

As the news spread on Twitter Friday, some expressed frustration that additional high-risk groups were not listed among those eligible under the new guidelines, including people with asthma or Type 1 diabetes.

With this announcement, an additional 4 to 6 million people will be eligible to be vaccinated, officials say.

The coronavirus skyrocketed in California over the winter, and the state surpassed New York for the highest number of COVID-19 deaths of any state, with over 46,000 Californians dead so far. While cases have come down in recent weeks, over 400 Californians on average are still dying each day from the virus.

There is still no word on whether people who are incarcerated or homeless — who are at particularly high risk for COVID-19 from living in congregate settings — will be put back on the state’s vaccine priority list.

State officials have insisted they will have “equity” in mind as they allocate the vaccine, but it’s not clear how. Asked last week what the state’s new age-based distribution would mean for homeless and incarcerated people, California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said that these were “important populations” and that for now, they are focused on people over 65 or with health conditions. As for the rest: “Stay tuned... nothing specific or concrete at this moment.”

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