SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Millions more Californians are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and many don't know they can get it.
On February 2, the California Health Alert Network sent out new guidelines, clarifying that "Informal Caregivers" should be given priority access to the vaccine.
According to the letter, an Informal Caregiver is "an unpaid family member or other person who regularly aids and supervises the daily care of an elderly or disabled person, but need not live in the same house."
"They're a critical link between providing care to our aging population and those who can't get access to care at all," says ElderHelp CEO Deb Martin.
"Family caregivers are at great risk, not only emotionally for the burden of the caregiving, but also the possibility of contaminating the very people that they care for," Martin explains.
But the definition of "Informal Caregiver" is vague. County officials say anyone who wants to get a vaccine as an Informal Caregiver needs to bring proof with them to the vaccination site.
"It requires a doctor's note," says County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. "A doctor must certify and verify that, and they have to produce that at each of our sites when they arrive for an appointment."
The Health Alert Network guidelines also say the letter must use the term "Informal Caregiver" and be from the doctor of the person being cared for.
The new requirements open up vaccines to millions of people in California. According to the CDC, 20% of Californians over the age of 45 say they act as caregivers to a friend or family member.
That includes an estimated 250-thousand people in San Diego who have loved ones with Alzheimer's or Dementia.
"It's a blessing to now be recognized and vaccinated," says Adrienne Pierre, who cares for her 86-year old mother, Rosemary. She got the vaccine as an Informal Caregiver earlier in the month.
"It's not about me. It's about (keeping) my mom safe," she explains.
"I am used to seeing my parents almost daily," says Beth Klareich, who helps care for her parents Nancy and Herschel, but has yet to be vaccinated. "It would be a tremendous game-changer for all of us in terms of their care and their quality of life."
There is concern that the vague definition would allow some people to take advantage of the program and "jump the line" for getting a vaccine. But Martin says she doesn't expect that to happen too often, and it's a worthwhile risk if it means people can get the care they need.
"As far as I'm concerned, anyone getting the vaccination is going to be a positive to the aging community," Martin says. "It's going to help support our work to try and eliminate this terrible pandemic that's affecting so many people."