A healthcare worker administers a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Las Mesa, California on Feb.11. Bing Guan / Bloomberg / Getty Images

The state of California is putting millions of people on its priority list for Covid-19 vaccinations, including residents “at high risk for developmental and other disabilities” and those with “serious underlying diseases.”

The plan, outlined by state health officials in a briefing on Friday, begins March 15 and allows cancer patients, pregnant women and other disabled people to join health workers, seniors, teachers and farm staff to get a vaccine. The expansion could put up to 6 million more Californians on the priority list.

In these categories, the age of 65 and over is also extended to 16 to 64 years.

California Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters the March 15 launch will give officials time to work out details on how to get vaccines for people with various disabilities and could include home visits.

Ghaly acknowledged the timing may be optimistic and warned, “We are still facing vaccine shortages. This week, the drastic shortage of vaccines in the state led to the closure of mass vaccination centers in Los Angeles. “

The expanded list of beneficiaries includes people with cancer, chronic kidney disease, oxygen-dependent heart disease, Down syndrome, immunocompromised organ transplant recipients, pregnant women, people with sickle cell disease, severe obesity, and certain type 2 diabetes.

Ghaly expressed concern about the unequal distribution between color communities and low-income areas. There are plans to reach out to community clinics, public health systems, and so-called “trusted messengers in communities” that data show are reluctant to be vaccinated.

Senior state health officials confirmed complaints from rural areas that they had not been given an adequate dose of vaccines. However, officials say these areas have historically been medically underserved and much of the early distribution occurred in areas with high numbers of medical professionals.

Officials say the focus is now shifting to rural areas in the California farming community, which has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Officials also believe a focus on Californians with developmental disabilities and serious underlying diseases will enable more vaccinations in high-risk environments such as prisons, homeless shelters, and areas where the homeless live.

The state estimates 13 million Californians are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, including 3 million healthcare workers, 3.4 million food and agricultural workers, 1.4 million in education, and 1 million in ambulance services more than 6 million people over the age of 65.

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