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While the three-week forecast for vaccine doses coming into California will remain mostly flat, local governments and health care systems are preparing for a dramatic uptick in available doses come May and into June.

California will continue to receive about 1.8 million doses of vaccine per week directly from the federal government for the remainder of March and into April, said State Sen. Mike McGuire in a virtual town hall on Thursday. However, this number does not include all of the doses coming into the state — pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, some health centers and FEMA vaccination sites receive separate allocations directly from the federal government. Sometime in May, though, direct allocations to the state will jump to 4 million doses per week, said McGuire.

“For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, I can finally say that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said McGuire. “But we have to remain vigilant, all of us, so that light continues to burn bright.”

Expanding vaccine distribution was at the forefront of the discussion during the town hall held by McGuire on Thursday, but he also answered questions submitted by Californians about the efficacy of some vaccines and when younger age groups will be eligible for vaccination. He was joined by Dr. Timothy Brewer, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles and Lori Nezhura, co-chair of the state’s vaccine task force.

Over 3,000 questions were submitted to the town hall. One resident asked how long the vaccines’ efficacy lasts, and whether the inoculated will have to update their shots each year like the flu shot. Dr. Brewer fielded the question.

“At least so far there is no evidence to suggest any waning immunity from the vaccine, but remember we only have data for about eight months, but that protection seems to last for that entire eight months,” said Brewer.

Many others asked about the efficacy of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Brewer said that while the efficacy of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine appears lower than that of Pfizer and Moderna, the numbers cannot be directly compared because the Johnson and Johnson vaccine conducted trials in Brazil and South Africa where the COVID variants there are less susceptible to the vaccine.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine was 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations and death during the trials.

Others asked when 50-64 year olds will be eligible to be vaccinated statewide, although the group is already eligible in some counties, but not Del Norte.

Vaccine supply has been the reason younger age groups have not been eligible yet, said Nezhura. However, 50-64 year olds, as well as younger age groups, can expect to be eligible within the next month, she said.

Local governments and health care systems are preparing for the increase in available doses by submitting vaccination expansion plans by the end of this month. Equitable distribution is an important piece of those plans, especially in rural parts of the North Coast.

In order to better organize the next phase of distribution, Blue Shield of California, a health plan provider, has been hired as a third party administrator to manage vaccine distribution within the state.

“We are capitalizing on their network and their ability to bring disparate groups together under the same umbrella. It’s their strength,” said Nezhura. “We are utilizing their strength to consolidate and coordinate all of California’s efforts, so that we are all moving in the same direction, with the same goals and nobody gets left behind.”

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