SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Governors largely cheered President Joe Biden's declaration that all adults should be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations by May 1, but the goal will require a shift for states that have been methodical in how they roll out the shots.
The top health official in California said the nation's most populous state will need to work harder in the coming weeks to ensure the most vulnerable people get vaccines before they have to compete with the general public. Oregon planned to make essential workers and younger adults with disabilities eligible by May 1, not the broader population, and said Friday it wouldn't change that timeline without firmer supply commitments.
Alaska, meanwhile, is already allowing all adults to sign up for a shot. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said before Biden spoke Thursday night that wide eligibility could come by next month, while Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday that it would happen by mid-April. In Virginia, state vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said the state could hit Biden’s goal earlier.
Governors in Wisconsin, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kansas and Vermont said they're ready to open the floodgates on May 1.
But several governors cautioned it must come with a dramatic increase in vaccine supply.
“In order for widespread and comprehensive vaccination to work, the federal government will need to come through with increased doses and infrastructure," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.
Jeffrey Zients, the White House's coronavirus coordinator, told reporters Friday that May 1 is an “absolute deadline" and that the nation will have enough supply between the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to give shots to all adults by the end of that month. Now, an average of 2.2 million doses are being administered per day.
As long as supply ramps up, the goal seems reasonable, said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an epidemiology professor. But she warned it could create challenges around equity and set unrealistic expectations among Americans that they will immediately be vaccinated come May.
Some states may not have the infrastructure to quickly ramp up doses for such a broad pool.
“It could be a delay for people to actually get a vaccine because of the operational constraints," she said.
Supply was a sticking point in Oregon. Health officials say they won’t change a plan to allow the general public to be vaccinated starting July 1 until they're sure more doses are coming.
“Until we get more clarity, we need to keep our current timelines in place. We can’t disappoint people who eagerly want a vaccine,” said Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority. “Right now, no one in the federal government has given us hard numbers on what we can expect and when.”
California's health secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said the state must focus on ensuring those most at risk of serious illness get shots before broad eligibility. People with disabilities and certain health conditions join the list Monday, and California doesn't plan to add any other groups before May 1.
“If I want to see us do anything over the next six to seven weeks before May 1, (it’s) to make sure we get into the communities that have been hardest hit,” he said Friday.
The state says it has the capacity to vaccinate 3 million per week but is getting about half that number of doses. By April 30, the state has set a goal of being able to give 4 million doses weekly.
Tim Jin, a 46-year-old Orange County resident with cerebral palsy, said he understands Biden’s desire to get the country back to normal. But opening up vaccinations to all adults in May will crowd out people with disabilities, who are just becoming eligible for the vaccine in California, he said.
“The first thing that I thought about was how much harder it’s going to be for people with disabilities to get the vaccine because they are pretty much eliminating the priority list for us,” Jin said.
Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network and a member of the state’s vaccine advisory committee, said Biden’s plan should not undercut California’s equity goals as long as the state maintains its commitments, such as sending more doses to underserved areas.
California is dedicating at least 40% of its doses to people in roughly 400 low-income ZIP codes.
“Having more vaccine is absolutely what we want and what we need, and if we still don’t have enough to meet the demand, then we still need to prioritize,” she said.
Elsewhere, governors met Biden's goal with enthusiasm.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said the state “will absolutely step up” to hit the goal. About 13% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to state data, among the highest rates in the country.
Now, all West Virginia residents 50 and over are eligible for the vaccine. The state’s coronavirus czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, said officials may be able to expand eligibility to everyone earlier than May.
“But we want to maintain our commitment to discipline and to make sure that we’re immunizing the people most likely to be hospitalized or to die first,” he said.
Associated Press journalists Janie Har in San Francisco; Cuneyt Dil in Charleston, West Virginia; Sara Cline in Portland, Oregon; Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia; Patty Nieberg in Denver and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington, contributed. Cline and Nieberg are corps members for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative.
This story has been corrected to show that California wants to have capacity to vaccinate 4 million people per week by April 30, not April 1.