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A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Las Mesa, California, on Feb.11. Bing Guan / Bloomberg / Getty Images

The US state of California is adding millions of people to its Covid-19 vaccination priority list, including “high-risk populations with developmental and other disabilities” and those with “serious underlying health conditions”.

The plan, outlined by state health officials in brief on Friday, will begin on March 15 and allow cancer patients, pregnant women and other handicapped individuals to join health care workers, seniors, teachers and farm staff to get a vaccine. The expansion could add up to 6 million more California residents to the priority list.

It also expands the ages from 65 and over to 16 to 64 in those groups.

Dr. Mark Galli, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, told reporters that the beginning of March 15 would give officials time to work out details on how to obtain vaccinations for people with various disabilities and that could include home visits.

Ghali admitted that the timing may be optimistic, warning, “We are still dealing with the scarcity of vaccine. This week, the severe shortage of vaccines in the state led to the closure of the mass vaccination centers in Los Angeles.”

The expanded list of eligible includes people with cancer, chronic kidney disease, oxygen-dependent heart disease, Down syndrome, immunosuppressed organ transplant recipients, pregnant women, people with sickle cell disease, severe obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Ghali expressed concern about the unequal distribution between communities of color and low income. There are plans to gain access to community clinics, public health systems, and what they call “trusted messengers in communities that data show are reluctant to get vaccinated.”

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Senior state health officials acknowledged complaints from rural counties that they were not getting their fair share of vaccinations. However, officials say these areas have historically lacked medical services and that much of the early distribution has been in areas with large numbers of medical workers.

Officials say the focus will now shift to rural areas of California’s farming community, which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Officials also believe that focusing on California residents with developmental disabilities and severe underlying conditions will allow for more vaccinations in vulnerable settings, such as prisons, homeless shelters and areas where homeless people reside.

The state estimates that 13 million Californians qualify for the Covid-19 vaccine, including 3 million health care workers, 3.4 million food and agricultural workers, 1.4 million in the education sector, 1 million in emergency services, and more than 6 million people over age. From 65.

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