State releases overview of COVID-19 vaccination planning strategy

December 08, 2020
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 

From the start of the pandemic, data and science have guided California's response to COVID-19. That continues to be true when it comes to vaccine planning and distribution.

California is leveraging its well-established existing immunization framework and emergency response infrastructure to coordinate efforts between state, local, and territorial authorities and administer the vaccine. The state is building on lessons learned from previous vaccination campaigns and seasonal influenza efforts to prepare and plan for the receipt and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and its implementation across the state.

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is one of the most important interventions to end the COVID-19 pandemic. California is working hard to be transparent, careful, and above all, equitable in efforts to provide a COVID-19 vaccine to everyone in California who needs and requests vaccination.

Advisory Committees

California has established three advisory committees to make recommendations on its distribution plan, which will draw from national recommendations but will incorporate considerations specific to California’s population, health care system, and state/local infrastructure.

The three advisory committees are:

  • Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, which also includes partners from other western states, will independently review vaccine safety and efficacy data.
  • Drafting Guidelines Workgroup is developing California-specific guidance for the prioritization and allocation of vaccines when supply is limited.
  • Community Advisory Vaccine Committee provides input and feedback to the planning efforts to ensure equity in COVID-19 Vaccine access. The California Medical Association is represented on the Community Vaccine Advisory Committee by Hendry Ton, M.D., associate vice chancellor for health equity, diversity and inclusion at UC Davis Health.

Vaccine Distribution Priority

Initially vaccine supply will be very limited. California is making sure that these supplies are distributed and administered equitably. At first, vaccines will be provided to health care workers and long-term care residents in accordance with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Allocation Guidelines for COVID-19 Vaccine During Phase 1A. The distribution will be allocated based upon geographic allocations, which can be found here. Initial enrollment in the California COVID-19 Vaccination Program is limited to sites selected by local health departments. 

Health care workers are prioritized in the first phase of distribution in California’s prioritization, with a specific delineation of priority based upon the risk of exposure and direct contact with COVID-19 positive patients. This level of specificity is required because the amount of vaccine California receives will not initially be sufficient to vaccinate all of those who are potentially eligible in each phase. California is anticipating receipt of its first vaccine allocation of 327,000 doses of the Pfizer candidate in mid-December 2020. CDPH assumes that there are a total of 2 million health care workers in the state who meet the criteria of being at risk of SARS-CoV-2 through their work in direct health care settings.

The first-tier prioritization, listed in ranked order, within the first phase of allocations are:

  • Acute care, psychiatric and correctional facility hospitals
  • Skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and similar settings for older or medically vulnerable individuals
  • Paramedics, EMTs and others providing emergency medical services
  • Dialysis centers

The distribution process will continue to evolve based upon vaccine supply and national allocations. CMA has actively engaged the state on its vaccine distribution plan and will continue to do so as California implements distribution, with the goal of a smooth allocation process that helps physicians continue to serve their communities safely, addresses equity, and reinforces the value and importance of vaccination. 

For more information, see the CDPH COVID-19 Vaccination Planning webpage.


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