LOS ANGELES (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom received his “one and done” Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine Thursday, as people 50 and older became eligible for the coveted inoculations in the most populous state in the country.
The Democratic governor chose a public stage to receive his shot — sitting in a folding chair, steps from a bank of TV cameras while the event was livestreamed from a mostly vacant area on a lower floor of a Los Angeles shopping mall.
Wearing a mask, Newsom kept the mood light, bantering as he pulled up the short sleeve of his T-shirt to expose his upper arm. He joked that he brought his own doctor, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.
“Nothing to be nervous about,” Ghaly said before poking the governor with a needle.
Newsom, 53, received his vaccination as millions more Californians became eligible Thursday to make appointments for the available doses, a process that remains frustrating for many.
Unlike most residents, however, there was no waiting line for Newsom. He did not have to wade through the state’s online portal and other separate sites in an attempt to get a vaccination appointment, or wake up in the middle of the night hoping to score a last-minute opening.
He encouraged residents 50 and over to get vaccinated. “The best vaccine is the next one available,” Newsom said.
But he also warned the state has been hit with at least seven virus mutations that pose new threats and “now is not the time to spike the ball. Now is not the time to announce, ‘Mission accomplished.’ ”
The event took place at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, a shopping mall in a historically Black neighborhood southwest of downtown. LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said it was critical to highlight the disproportionate economic and health effects of the pandemic on working-class people and communities of color, particularly for Black and Latino Californians.
Mitchell cheered as Yolanda Richardson, the state secretary in charge of vaccination operations, also received the J&J vaccine. Both women are African American.
California has administered more than 18 million doses as of Thursday, and 6.7 million people are fully vaccinated. But the governor warned that getting to herd immunity may take months and depends on supply. Last week, the state administered 2.5 million shots, about the amount California expects to receive next week, he said.
The state of nearly 40 million residents is coming back to life as more business sectors reopen following a crushing winter surge. California’s case and death rates remain low but unlike in some other states, cautious health officials have asked people to continue wearing masks and maintain social distancing rules in order to avoid another surge.
On Thursday, the touristy and popular Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk reopened to visitors. In Oakland, the A’s prepared to welcome a limited number of fans to the team's opening day game. Other major league baseball teams, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Angels, were also preparing for games in San Diego and in Anaheim, respectively.
“Oh, it’s been so long that we’ve got to do anything," said Myrna Ventura, who was visiting Santa Cruz from Sacramento. "It's good to just come out and enjoy a little bit, of course, being safe.”
As another sign of California opening up, the state's public health department on Thursday lifted a previous recommendation that residents not travel more than 120 miles (193 kilometers) from home, although it still warned against non-essential travel outside of the state.
Newsom, a Democrat, is likely to face a recall election from opponents critical of his handling of the pandemic, who argue that he put overly tight constraints on businesses and failed to reopen schools to in-class instruction soon enough.
The theatrical setting appeared aimed at maximizing publicity for the broader availability of the shots as he seeks to regain his footing after Newsom has seen his popularity slide.
“Having bungled California’s vaccine rollout from the very beginning, Gavin Newsom is fortunate to receive his shot today as so many others continue to wait,” California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson said in a statement.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, also a Democrat, defended Newsom for making the hard calls and said he hoped the governor felt the joy that comes with the jab of a vaccination.
“It happens in a split-second, it doesn’t hurt, and yet it transforms everything,” Garcetti said. “The melting away of a year of suffering and trauma and pain begins to finally go away.”
The governor breathed in deeply after the shot then disappeared from cameras for his 15-minute waiting period, before emerging to speak with reporters.
The official first partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, will get vaccinated when she becomes eligible in two weeks, when appointments open for residents 16 and older, he said.
Newsom said a key issue remains vaccine availability because there is no shortage of demand. The state plans to begin vaccinating people age 16 and older on April 15.
Newsom was hesitant to say when supply will meet demand, allowing everyone who wants vaccines to get them, because of fluctuations in vaccine supplies.
It could be within “the next couple of months,” he said.
Har reported from San Francisco. Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento and Haven Daley in Santa Cruz contributed to this report.