Californians ages 50 and up can get a COVID vaccine starting Thursday. Here’s what you need to know


An additional 7.6 million Californians will be eligible to start booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments later this week. But whether they’ll be able to secure an appointment right away or weeks from now will depend on where a person lives and how many doses will be available there.

Starting Thursday, Californians ages 50 and up in all 58 counties can officially get vaccinated through regular channels such as public health departments and health care providers. And two weeks later, on April 15, all Californians 16 and older will become eligible for a vaccine.

Currently, more than a quarter of Californians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and about half of the state’s population was eligible. Thursday’s dramatic expansion of vaccine-eligible Californians is expected to bring the total to about 25 million — or nearly two-thirds of the state.

Darren Ng, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, said Monday that based on the state’s anticipated supply, it will take weeks if not months to vaccinate all eligible Californians.

“Everybody will be eligible, but we want to make sure people have proper expectations on what that means,” Ng said in an interview.

About 24% of Californians age 50-64 already have received at least one dose, according to the California Health Department, while 38% of residents ages 18 to 49 have had at least one shot, likely because of their occupation or health status.

Several California counties, including the Bay Area’s Contra Costa and Solano, earlier this month on their own lowered their age requirement for vaccinations to 50 because available appointments were going unused. Contra Costa County later this week intends to make vaccines available to anyone 16 or older, but a date hasn’t yet been decided, spokesperson Will Harper said Monday.

The statewide expanded eligibility for residents between the ages of 50 and 64 comes just two weeks after California opened up vaccine appointments to an additional 4 million to 6 million people with “high risk” health conditions and disabilities, homeless or incarcerated individuals and public transit workers and janitors — many of whom are still waiting to get their vaccines.

Here’s what else you should know about this week’s vaccine eligibility expansion.

Will I be notified when I can book an appointment?

If you enter your personal information into your county’s vaccination website and there are open appointments, you should receive a notification via email or text message on April 1 reminding you that you’re eligible to make an appointment. In San Francisco, officials said they’ll be sending out reminder messages sometime Thursday morning.

When can I book an appointment?

In Contra Costa and Solano counties, people who live or work there and are 50 or older can book an appointment today.

But in most Bay Area counties, vaccine supply is still very limited and inconsistent, so it could take days or weeks for residents ages 50-64 to make an appointment. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to try.

The state’s MyTurn website, health care providers such as Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health and the San Francisco Health Department do not yet allow residents or patients to preschedule appointments ahead of their eligibility date, meaning that people 50 or older planning to go through those channels will have to wait until Thursday to check for available appointments. No officials at those agencies would say exactly what time on Thursday people will be able to begin booking appointments, only that they will open up “on Thursday.”

In contrast, officials in Santa Clara County said people 50 or older can try to book an appointment starting now, but they must make the appointment for Thursday, April 1 or later. As of Monday afternoon, there were no available appointments through the Santa Clara County Health Department, but the county’s vaccination webpage advises residents to check back regularly as “new appointments are being added daily.”

For the first time in nearly a month, Santa Clara County has caught up with its second-dose appointments and plans to offer 32,000 first-dose openings this week. Those appointments will be available for residents 50 or older, as well as anyone previously eligible who is still awaiting a vaccine, including people ages 16-64 with high-risk health conditions and disabilities.

Across the Bay Area, county officials say that there will be no priority given to older individuals in the 50-64 age group nor to people with underlying health conditions or disabilities who have yet to secure an appointment. Openings will be given to those who are first to book a slot.

How soon will I be able to actually get a vaccine?

This is the million-dollar question and, unfortunately, it is still very uncertain and varies from county to county.

The San Francisco Health Department said in a statement Monday that given the “insufficient and unpredictable vaccine supply and an increasing need to allocate limited vaccine supply to second doses, many people may experience delays in making a first vaccine appointment in the coming weeks.”

In San Mateo County, where officials received 20,930 doses this week, approximately 200,000 people with underlying medical conditions and disabilities or who work in certain sectors such as transportation and became eligible for vaccines on March 15 still have not been able to get shots due to the continued constrained supply, according to Srija Srinivasan, deputy chief of San Mateo County Health.

The county this week will focus on providing appointments to those awaiting their second doses across the county and first-dose appointments to residents living in certain low-income neighborhoods where vaccination rates are lower than the county average, including East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks, San Mateo, South San Francisco and Daly City. San Mateo County residents who are 50 or older but do not live in eligible neighborhoods will not be able to make a first-dose appointment through the county health department this week.

Why is Contra Costa County already moving to people 16 and older?

Just one week after Contra Costa County expanded its vaccine eligibility to anyone 50 or older, it is planning to allow anyone 16 or older to get vaccinated. The county is not required to get any approval from the state to push ahead of the state’s vaccine rollout plan.

County spokesperson Will Harper said Monday that the county is “concerned about the number of appointments available at our community clinics this week.” As of Monday, the county has 20,000 vaccine slots available for the taking.

“The state has always told us not to sit on using vaccines and expand eligibility if you’re able to,” he wrote in an email. “We constantly evaluate the number of vaccine doses coming to us as compared to the number of appointments available and use that to drive when we open eligibility.”