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Vaccine Eligibility Widened In California On March 15. Here's How LA's Handling It

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A pharmacist at UCI Health holds a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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By Jackie Fortiér and Carla Javier

Starting March 15, Californians who are 16-to-64 years old with disabilities and certain high-risk health conditions can sign up for a free COVID-19 vaccine. Also eligible are public transit workers and those living and working in congregate living spaces, including people experiencing homelessness and those in federal immigrant detention centers.

Vaccine eligibility will also continue to be open to people who already qualified, such as health workers, educators, food workers, certain emergency workers, and people over 65.

It's a lot to keep track of, so we're breaking down what we know so far, and how it will work in Los Angeles.

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HOW TO CHECK IF YOU QUALIFY

Here in Los Angeles County, the public health department keeps an ongoing list of who is eligible for a vaccine.

WHAT TO BRING TO YOUR VACCINE APPOINTMENT

You need to bring a photo ID (does not have to be government issued), and proof that you live or work in the county where you are getting vaccinated. A library card, utility bill, lease or work document, among others, will all suffice. You also must wear a mask at all vaccine sites. These requirements apply to everyone.

Depending on how you qualify, you may need to bring additional proof of eligibility. Details are below.

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IF YOU QUALIFY DUE TO A HEALTH CONDITION

The California Department of Public Health specifies that people with certain health conditions, "deemed to be at the very highest risk for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19," qualify for vaccine priority on March 15.

Those conditions include:

Cancer, current with weakened immune system

Chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above

Chronic pulmonary disease, oxygen dependent

Down syndrome

Solid organ transplant, leading to a weakened immune system

Pregnancy

Sickle cell disease

Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies (but not hypertension)

Severe obesity (Body Mass Index ≥ 40 kg/m2)

Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5%

CDPH also says you can qualify for a vaccine "as a result of a developmental or other significant, high-risk disability," and if:
A COVID-19 infection is likely to result in severe life-threatening illness or death; OR

Acquiring COVID-19 will limit the individual's ability to receive ongoing care or services vital to their well-being and survival; OR

Providing adequate and timely COVID care will be particularly challenging as a result of the individual's disability.

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► Will I have to prove my health condition at a vaccine site?

No. CDPH says it won't require people to prove their medical eligibility. Instead, California will use the honor system, which is what some other states have done. If these conditions apply to you and you get an appointment, when you arrive at a vaccination site you'll be asked to sign a statement saying you meet the criteria.

"We're encouraging documentation, but we're not requiring documentation," L.A. County Department of Public Health chief science officer Dr. Paul Simon explained Friday. "And for those that are unable to bring documentation, we will accept an attestation."

The county posted a self-attestation form on its website in English and in Spanish. It does not ask you to disclose your specific medical condition, but does ask you to declare that your condition or disability makes you eligible. If you aren't able to print it, the county said it will also accept handwritten versions of the letter.

If you receive services through a regional center -- nonprofits that help people with disabilities -- you should be getting a personalized letter verifying your eligibility. It may be a good idea to bring that letter with you to the vaccine site as a backup.

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Regional centers are also being directed to reach out to their clients online, by phone or in person to provide information on how to make an appointment, where to get vaccinated, and to answer any other questions they might have.

The county lists other types of medical documentation you can provide here.

If you are eligible, you can also ask your medical provider if they're offering the shot. Since they already have your medical history you might not need extra qualifying paperwork.

IF YOU'RE ELIGIBLE BECAUSE OF OTHER LIFE CIRCUMSTANCES

CDPH guidance includes people who live or work in "congregate residential settings," where they are at "high risk" of an outbreak, including places such as:

  • Incarceration or detention facilities
  • Homeless shelters
  • Behavioral health facilities

The state guidance also expands eligibility to include all people experiencing homelessness.
"The exact approach is going to be provider specific," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary.

"So each facility, whether a detention facility or a jail, I think the specific plans on how individuals in those facilities will be vaccinated are going to be up to the vaccination partners, whether that's the county, a federal partner, a clinical partner, I think each one has a slightly different story," he said.

L.A. County Public Health is also allowing those who live or work in the following facilities to get vaccinated, too:

  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Substance use disorder residential facilities
  • Developmental disability residential facilities

Residents at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, as well as residents who are 65 years old or older, are already eligible.

► Will I have to bring proof to the vaccine site?

You will have to sign a letter declaring that you are experiencing homelessness, are living in a shelter, or may be going to live in a shelter or other congregate living facility, or, that you are currently living in a "high risk congregate setting." In the latter case, you will also be asked to provide the name of the facility and the address, so make sure you have that information with you.

The county has a template in English and in Spanish you can use for your attestation.

If you cannot print the attestation letter, the county says it will also accept a handwritten version.

If you qualify because you are 65 or older, you'll have to bring some way to prove your age.

IF YOU'RE ELIGIBLE BECAUSE OF YOUR OCCUPATION

The state also added people who work in public transit and as ground crew for commercial airlines to the growing list of eligible workers.

"They are at high risk for occupational exposure, and maintaining continuity of transportation operations is critical," the California Department of Public Health wrote.

Healthcare workers, staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, education and childcare workers, those who work in food and agriculture, emergency services workers, people who work in janitorial or custodial services, and those who work in the congregate settings described above -- such as incarceration or detention facilities, homeless shelters, and behavioral health facilities -- are also eligible for vaccines based on their occupation.

L.A. Public Health lists the specific eligible jobs within those industries -- and the exceptions to eligibility -- on its website.

► Will I have to prove my occupation at a vaccine site?

The L.A. County Department of Public Health has a checklist where you can confirm the documentation accepted for each group of workers.

For example, if you work onsite in public transportation or as part of the ground crew for commercial airlines, you can bring a work badge that has your photo, your professional license, or a pay stub bearing your name.

In many cases (though -- again -- you should double check for your industry), the county documentation checklist also gives the option for an attestation letter from your employer, union, or yourself.

If you sign your own attestation letter, you will have to provide your job title, and the name of the place and address where you work.

WILL THERE BE ENOUGH VACCINE FOR EVERYONE WHO IS ELIGIBLE?

Not immediately.

To put all of this in context: L.A. County Public Health estimated that, with the expansions in eligibility, more than five million residents and workers are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

That far outpaces supply. This week, L.A. County expects to get about 260,000 doses, which is about 60,000 fewer vaccines than it received last week.

The county is setting aside doses for certain groups, though. This week, for example, about 13% of doses are intended for people who have a severe health condition or disability that makes them eligible for a vaccine, 12% are for seniors, 11% are for food and agriculture workers, and 12% are for educators.

About 19% of the county's vaccines this week are for anyone who is eligible.

As of March 12, at least 1.8 million residents had received one shot and almost 900,000 had been fully vaccinated, according to L.A. County Public Health.