San Francisco expands vaccine eligibility, broadening state's category for disabilities

San Francisco will allow people with HIV to get vaccinated, along with people who identify as deaf or disabled, starting on Monday when California opens up the number of residents eligible for the coronavirus vaccine to people with certain significant, high-risk medical conditions or disabilities.

An estimated 4.4 million Californians meet the state criteria, which includes more essential workers, people who work or live in jails, homeless shelters and other congregant places, and those with disabilities and health conditions that put them at risk of severe COVID-19.

Earlier in the week, Kaiser Permanente began notifying its members if they met the state's new eligibility requirements, sending text messages, emails, phone calls, and letters in the mail, notifying them to schedule their vaccine appointment.

Joi Nahidi, 58, of Novato, said she got an email from Kaiser Permanente on Saturday afternoon notifying her of her eligibility. By Sunday afternoon, she got her shot.

"You feel like you've won the lottery when you get that notification. and then just jump on it," Nahidi said.

San Francisco is going beyond the state's eligibility rules to cover developmental, medical, physical, sensory or behavioral health disabilities, including severe mental health or substance use disorders, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday. Pregnant women are also eligible in San Francisco. 

"Getting vaccinations to people with disabilities and who have severe underlying conditions, and people who are in congregate settings, is an important part of our efforts to save lives and protect our most vulnerable residents," Mayor London Breed said in a statement.

She cautioned that despite opening up vaccine eligibility for several new groups, supply remains low. So far, roughly 27% of San Francisco residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Eligible people will not be required to provide documentation but will be asked to sign a self-attestation that they meet the criteria, the state’s public health department said.

San Francisco is also expanding eligibility to individuals experiencing homelessness. Supervisor, Matt Haney, represents the city's 6th district, which includes the Tenderloin, and where approximately half of the city's homeless reside, either on the street or in a shelter.

"This expansion of eligibility is only is meaningful if we go out and reach people who are eligible," Haney said. "So that they know, that they have access, that they have the technology, that they are able to get the appointments." 

The challenge for San Francisco will be in expanding outreach and accessibility for these San Francisco residents without reliable internet and the resources to know they're eligible.

"We are going to have to get out and get these vaccines to individuals either on site or register them and bring them in," Haney said.

"Now, this Monday, it's game time, it's go time," Haney added. "These people are now eligible, we know it's their turn, and we need to get this vaccine to them right now."

Haney clarified that residents of the city's Single Room Occupancy (SRO) dwellings are not considered eligible under the expansion to "congregate facilities." He said the city's health department told him they are adhering to state guidelines with their decision. 

KTVU's Emma Goss contributed to this report.