Nervously clutching her mouse and refreshing San Diego County’s vaccination appointment web page every 10 to 15 minutes, Nancy Price said she was hoping to strike gold earlier this year. And then the county granted her wish.
She and her husband Michael considered themselves lucky when the words on their computer screen read they had successfully signed up for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment here in San Diego County.
That was back in January. But when the time came for the couple’s second dose, their appointment was rescheduled after a winter storm in the midwest delayed vaccine shipments nationwide.
This second dose is all that stands between Nancy and Michael holding their loved ones again.
“We haven’t touched our grandchildren in almost a year,” Michael said.
So, when the couple learned that tens of thousands of vaccine doses in San Diego County are administered to people living outside of the county, they said they were both feeling surprised and frustrated.
“How did that happen?” Michael asked. “Where was the breakdown in the system?”
NBC 7 Investigates found 23,249 people who received both vaccine doses in San Diego County live outside of the county’s jurisdiction. According to vaccination figures released on Wednesday, the county reported that people living outside of the county made up 4% of fully vaccinated individuals.
Those vaccine figures come from the San Diego Immunization Registry (SDIR), which includes all vaccinations administered in the county excluding those issued by the Department of Defense. According to a county spokesperson, all vaccination distribution points, including local pharmacies, are required to update the SDIR every day with data on who received a vaccine at their location and where the person lives.
San Diego County officials told NBC 7 that most “out of jurisdiction” vaccines have gone to people who work in San Diego County but do not live here, which they said would be OK. The county also said it is “not knowingly vaccinating people who do not live within the county.”
When asked during Wednesday's COVID-19 news briefing, County Supervisor Chair Nathan Fletcher reassured those who have concerns with this, adding that the county doesn’t think it’s a problem.
“If an individual works here every single day and they can get the vaccine, then that is OK,” he told NBC 7. “We think the overwhelming majority of a really tiny percentage of the total [vaccines] are going to people that are outside the county because they are [working] here.
County officials also suggested some industries -- like travel nurses -- could be a reason behind the number of out-of-county residents who are vaccinated here.
“We can look into it,” Fletcher concluded on the point. “But again, we’re focused on getting vaccines administered… I don’t know that it’s a significant problem.”
NBC 7 Investigates requested a breakdown of the ZIP codes of residence for the out-of-jurisdiction vaccine recipients -- much like the county releases daily for vaccines administered within the county -- but officials said it’s unclear whether that information will be released due to confidentiality concerns and access to the SDIR.
Still, Nancy and Michael Price question why people who live outside of San Diego County aren’t seeking vaccination appointments from their own county’s health department.
“You got 3.5 million residents in San Diego County that are counting on the county government getting this right because that’s who’s running it,” Michael Price said. “So if you start allowing exceptions here and there, where do the exceptions stop?”
NBC 7 Investigates asked the California Department of Public Health about the guidelines in place for counties inoculating non-county residents, but our questions went unanswered.
It appears there are no restrictions in place for non-Californians to be vaccinated in the state. According to the state’s official COVID-19 website, residency is not a factor when it comes to receiving a vaccination in California.
“Vaccine distribution is based on eligibility irrespective of residency or immigration status,” the state’s website reads.
Some San Diegans Still Struggling To Find Local Appointments
While they wait for their second dose, the Prices consider themselves lucky that they have had even a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, especially after talking with their friends.
“When we got home we had friends asking us if we had any hints for how to book [an appointment,]” Nancy Price said. “Because they had been trying and were extremely frustrated that they couldn’t find anything.”
Their friends’ frustrations fed into the couple’s worries, they said, after the Prices' second vaccine dose appointment was canceled due to the midwest storm delays earlier this month.
Eventually, the county rescheduled the Prices' appointments for 42 days after their first shot -- the last day recommended by the CDC for full efficacy for the Moderna vaccine. Given the latest round of delays, the Prices were nervous about getting that second shot in time. They were also frustrated, as county and healthcare providers announced they would prioritize rescheduling second doses - something the Prices didn’t feel was actually happening.
Unable to sleep, Nancy Price said she stayed on her computer throughout the middle of the night, checking and refreshing the county’s website. Just when she thought it was pointless, she said the couple’s opportunity for their second shot arrived, thanks to a last-minute cancellation.
The couple said their appointment is scheduled for Thursday, and that their goal is to get fully inoculated so they can visit their family.
Still, they question why things have been difficult up to this point, and the high number of vaccines distributed to those who do not live here in San Diego County.
“You had almost a year to plan how this was going to come down and how you were going to do it, and it feels like it was done at the last minute,” Michael Price said.
To learn more about scheduling a vaccination appointment in San Diego County, click here.