By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Several U.S. states on Thursday announced broad expansions of their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, with California opening immunizations to all adults aged 50 and older starting April 1 and Florida making anyone 40 and up eligible from Monday.
California, the most populous state, said it would further widen vaccine eligibility to all individuals at least 16 years of age beginning April 15, while Florida, ranking third in U.S. population, said it would lower its age threshold to 18 and up on April 5.
North Carolina said it was accelerating its timeline for vaccination eligibility to begin making shots available to all adults on April 7.
The three states join a growing list moving well ahead of the Biden administration's goal of expanding coronavirus immunizations to U.S. adults of all ages by May 1.
Georgia officially opened inoculations to all adults on Thursday, with Texas set to do the same on Monday, followed by Indiana two days later. Those three states announced their universal expansions on Tuesday, the same day New York state dropped its eligibility age from 60 to 50.
In announcing its widening campaign, California, a major flashpoint of the U.S. pandemic during the COVID-19 surge at the end of last year, cited nationwide progress in vaccine distributions as supplies continue to grow.
"With vaccine supply increasing and by expanding eligibility to more Californians, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter," said California Governor Gavin Newsom, who began relaxing tough restrictions on social and economic life as coronavirus caseloads waned in recent weeks.
Vaccine eligibility in California is currently restricted to adults 65 and older and individuals of all ages in various high-priority classifications, including medical personnel, first-responders, nursing home residents, food and grocery workers, teachers and people with underlying chronic health conditions.
Florida, home to large concentrations of elderly residents especially vulnerable to the virus, has already vaccinated more than 70% of its roughly 4.4 million seniors, aged 65 and up, Governor Ron DeSantis said.
He said that tally appeared to account for a sharp drop in case rates and hospitalizations among elderly residents in the state, which lowered its vaccine age threshold to 50 on Monday.
Alaska was the first state to lower statewide eligibility to age 16, the youngest age allowed to be immunized with any of the three vaccines that have so far received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
It also has the highest rate of vaccination in the United States, with 31.5% of its residents having received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the United States as a whole, 26% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, with about 2.4 million shots being given each day during the past week, according to tracking data compiled by Reuters.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)