Federal government expands COVID vaccine eligibility

The federal government is making changes to its vaccine guidelines and expanding groups eligible for vaccine doses to include people age 65 and older, along with adults with some pre-existing conditions.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the changes Tuesday about how vaccines should be rolled out.

The federal government is also releasing all of its vaccine doses, rather than holding onto a reserve of second doses, saying supply levels allow for the change.

"This next phase reflects the urgency of the situation we face. Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more life lost or one more hospital bed occupied," said Azar said.

Josh Salomon is a Professor of Medicine and teaches Health Policy at Stanford University.

"Absolutely we expect that this is likely to prevent cases of illness and prevent some deaths," said Salomon.

His research, published last week, found releasing all available vaccine doses can save more lives by preventing up to roughly 30 percent more cases.

"This is a really critical time. We're seeing devastating numbers of cases and hospitalizations and deaths every day. So it really is urgent that we use all the tools at our disposal," said Salomon.

He calls the federal guideline changes important and welcome, but notes one worry about the eligibility expansion for two new groups.

"There's a reasonable concern that that perhaps is too broad and too quick and could create confusion or frustration if a lot of people who fall into those categories are not able to access vaccines," Salomon said.

California's Health Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, Tuesday said the state is now working on new guidance because of the federal changes and also preparing for more vaccine.

"We believe that having more vaccine, inviting more to be vaccinated, will allow California to go faster and quicker through our population," said Dr. Ghaly.

More pharmacies and health centers will now be able to administer the shot under new federal guidelines.

The federal government is no longer allocating vaccine doses to states based on population, but rather the states that vaccinate the quickest and which have the largest older populations will get doses first.

As for grandparents Flyn and Pete Naumchik of Los Gatos, they're just waiting for the call from their doctor to make an appointment when the time comes.

"We will get vaccinated as soon as possible," Flyn Naumchik said.

State leaders expect to release new statewide vaccine guidelines Wednesday.