SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Governors largely cheered President Joe Biden’s declaration that all Americans 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.
California, the nation’s most populous state, hasn’t set a timeline for giving vaccines to the general public, instead prioritizing older adults, teachers and people in vulnerable neighborhoods. Oregon planned to open eligibility for front-line workers and all adults with disabilities, not the broader population, by May 1.
Alaska, meanwhile, is already allowing everyone to sign up for a shot. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said before Biden spoke Thursday night that all adults could be eligible by next month, while Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday that everyone will be there by mid-April. Governors in Wisconsin, Louisiana and North Carolina 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.
California, home to nearly 40 million people, says it has the capacity to vaccinate 3 million people per week but is getting about half that number of doses. By April 1, the state plans to ramp up weekly shots to 4 million people. But so far, vaccines are still limited to people 65 and older, educators, farmworkers, emergency service workers and, starting Monday, an estimated 4.4 million people with disabilities and certain health conditions.
California officials did not immediately answer questions Friday about how Biden’s declaration would alter their plans.
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 vaccine 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.