Gray area in California vaccine eligibility list could benefit those with underlying conditions

SAN FRANCISCO -- On February 12th, California Health Director Dr. Mark Ghaly announced that people from the ages of 16 to 64 who are severely disabled or have chronic health conditions will be prioritized for future COVID-19 vaccines.

The eligibility expansion only listed those that the state categorized as "highest risk," including individuals with cancer, heart conditions, and severe obesity among others.

But if you keep scrolling down the list it also includes "individuals who are likely to develop severe life-threatening illness or death from COVID," and California officials advise healthcare providers to use their best clinical judgement.

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The announcement left many with underlying health conditions wondering if they too qualified.

"I live with Axial Spondyloarthritis which is an inflammatory condition that affects my whole body," says disabled activist Charis Hill.

Hill has been isolating from the rest of the world in fear of getting COVID-19 for the past year.

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"Based on my personal past, the most infectious hit me really hard," Hill says. "Last year I went to the Emergency Room three times because of infections that I couldn't fight at home. They and I know that infections pose a severe risk for me, whether it's like strep throat or COVID."

ABC7 Special Correspondent Dr. Alok Patel says he's been getting messages from Californians who are worried their underlying medical condition may not be represented in this high-risk group.

"My instinct tells me there might be some discretion at the provider's level. To say 'Hey, you are not in this listed disease categories but you are still immunocompromised or you are still high risk'," says Dr. Patel.

That's the gray area some California doctors are concerned about: wondering how much influence they will have in deciding who gets vaccinated.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the leading spokesperson on California's public health matters said supply is still limited.

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"It's really crucial for providers to exercise a fair amount of recognition of the scarce supply to ensure that those who are at highest risk are able to get the vaccine," Dr. Burke Harris adds.

This thought that leaves many with underlying health conditions wondering if ultimately the state will prioritized them.

"Personally I think I qualify," Hill says. "But there is no direction to prove that I qualify under those 3 stipulations."

The state's eligibility list expansion will go into effect March 15th.

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