Long Beach resident Karen Dix, 62, was able to get her COVID-19 vaccine through her work as a case manager for a local homeless agency, but for months she has been worried for her 20-year-old son Isaak, who has developmental disabilities.
Dix and her son were among the first in line at the Long Beach Convention Center on Monday as the city began offering the vaccine to residents age 16 and over who have physical and mental disabilities. The city is not yet vaccinating those who have preexisting health conditions.
As of Monday afternoon, hundreds of people had lined up at the site to receive a shot.
“I jumped right on it,” she said, as tears filled her eyes. “I’m just so relieved.”
Mayor Robert Garcia on Monday said the city, which has its own health department, is the first jurisdiction in California to expand its rollout to disabled residents.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has repeatedly lauded Long Beach for its success and speed in administering vaccines to eligible groups.
Residents with disabilities can now get a shot at the Convention Center between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. No appointment is necessary, but individuals must show proof of residence and documentation of a disability, such as a placard or doctor’s note.
Under state guidelines, beginning in March vaccines can be administered to residents between the ages of 16 and 64 with disabilities or underlying conditions including: cancer; chronic kidney disease; chronic pulmonary disease; Down syndrome; weakened immune system from solid organ transplant; pregnancy; sickle cell disease; heart conditions; severe obesity; and Type 2 diabetes.
The vaccine will also be available to anyone over 16 who suffers from a “developmental or other severe high-risk disability” that leaves the person susceptible to serious illness or death from COVID; if acquiring COVID will limit the person’s ability to receiving necessary ongoing care or services; or if the disability would hamper the person’s ability to be treated for COVID.
Resident Gilbert Garcia, 43, who was walking with help from a cane, said he suffers from an equilibrium issue following an accident in 2001. He’s been concerned about COVID but has been waiting patiently for his turn to get the shot.
“I came as soon as I could,” he said. “Now is my chance.”
Sharon Norman, 64, who has a disability, was relieved that she could finally get the shot after falling just under the age limit in the previous tier for people 65 and up.
“I’ll feel better once I get the second shot,” she said.
Los Angeles County plans to expand vaccine eligibility next week to those with disabilities and underlying health conditions.
But Dr. Paul Simon, the county’s chief science officer, said officials are trying to get clarification from the state on how to determine who is eligible, particularly under the “disability” category.
He said that, ideally, people with such disabilities or health conditions would be able to get the vaccine from their doctors.
“At a large community (vaccine site), where people are presenting and we don’t know anything about their medical history, it’s challenging,” Simon said. “I think we might have to rely on a letter from the provider, of course, those letters could be forged.”
The county has dealt with repeated problems of people trying to “jump the line” to access vaccines, sometimes by obtaining access codes intended for specific high-risk communities. Long Beach has also experienced problems with people cutting line through shared appointment links.
With an estimated 46,000 people in Long Beach who have disabilities, it is one of the largest groups to become eligible behind seniors over 65.
As of Friday, the city has vaccinated 78,530 residents, for more than 16% of the population. More than 66% of residents over 65 have now been vaccinated.
City News Service contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Long Beach is not vaccinating people with preexisting health conditions—only those with disabilities.