Millions More Californians Will Be Eligible for Vaccine Monday

Californians who are newly eligible for the coronavirus vaccine starting on March 15 include those with disabilities and health conditions that put them at risk of severe COVID-19 infection

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An estimated 4.4 million Californians will be added to the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility list on Monday.

The new phase of vaccinations in San Diego County is Phase 1C and includes those with disabilities and serious health conditions such as cancer, heart conditions, severe obesity, type 2 diabetes, and chronic kidney and pulmonary disease. Those who qualify for the newly-allowed Phase 1C group must be between the ages of 16 to 64 and deemed to be at the very highest risk of getting sick from COVID-19.

According to San Diego County’s phased approach to coronavirus vaccine eligibility, those who can now be vaccinated under Phase 1C have one of more of the following health conditions:

  • Cancer, current with weakened immune system­­
  • Chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above
  • Chronic pulmonary disease, oxygen dependent
  • Down syndrome
  • Solid organ transplant, leading to a weakened immune system
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies (but not hypertension)
  • Severe obesity (Body Mass Index ≥ 40 kg/m2)
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5%

The county said additional eligible medical conditions for vaccinations under Phase 1C are: 

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Overweight (BMI > 25 kg/m2, but < 30 kg/m2)
  • Obese (BMI > 30 kg/m2, but < 40 kg/m2)
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus

“Anyone who has a pre-existing medical condition can go to the county webpage [to check availability] or they can also go directly to their doctor,” said Dr. Edward Cachay, M.D., infectious disease specialist, UC San Diego.

For those with disabilities, eligibility could not have come soon enough.

For Chi and Amy Vargas of Rancho Penasquitos, it's a relief. NBC 7 spoke with the family on Sunday. Their son, Jack, has Down Syndrome. 

Down Syndrome is one of at least 22 health conditions that are on the county's eligibility list.

“I’m really going to be happy that he’ll be safe and we won’t have to worry as much,” said Chi Vargas.

According to the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, 96% of the people who have died from COVID-19 in San Diego had an underlying condition. 

“It is absolutely important that you protect yourself by receiving whichever vaccine is available for you as soon as you can,” said Dr. Cachay.

San Diego County public health officials also said additional eligible groups now being vaccinated under Phase 1C include those in congregate residential settings like jail or detention facilities, homeless shelters, or behavioral health facilities. This group includes those who are homeless, who might transition into congregate living facilities at short notice.

“It is a big group and the challenge is the demand and the supply,” said Dr. Cachay. “But there is hope because we are implementing this as soon as possible and hopefully in six weeks by May 1, everyone would not have any issues is getting the vaccine.”

Now that San Diego County has again expanded its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, pregnant women are able to sign up for an appointment. NBC 7’s Ashley Matthews speaks with a local doctor on the importance of pregnant women getting vaccinated.

For now, the California Department of Public Health asks that residents not abuse the guidelines for at-risk people by faking eligibility. 

“If you are one of those people that do want to cut in line, please keep in mind that there are other people that are fragile, that might need it more than you,” said Yurina Melara, public information officer with the California Department of Public Health.

Melara urges people to work with their healthcare providers to seek vaccinations as a first step. 

For those without access to a health care provider, you can book your appointment through myturn.ca.gov

San Diego County residents with chronic illnesses are now able to receive the COVID-19. NBC 7’s Audra Stafford has more information on the newly expanded eligibility.

Public transit workers, including airport workers for commercial airlines (but not private airplanes), are also eligible for the coronavirus vaccine under Phase 1C starting Monday. A complete outline of Phase 1C eligibility can be found on the county's website, here.

With the rollout of Phase 1C, the first phase of the county's plan will be fully rolled out. Phase 2 is next, which includes the general population over 16 years of age.

Phase 1C: Coronavirus Vaccinations Bring Feelings of 'Hope'

At the county’s vaccination super station at Grossmont Center mall in La Mesa, some locals were able to snag an appointment for their immunization under Phase 1C, including Little Italy resident Cynthia Adkins.

Adkins had open-heart surgery 6 weeks ago and found out three days prior that she would be eligible for the vaccine on Monday. She told NBC 7 she was able to get an appointment after repeatedly checking back on the county’s appointment website.

“You could click on the 15th but there just wasn’t anything available and I just kept trying, even though there wasn’t anything available and, suddenly, there was one,” Adkins said. “My recommendation is don’t give up, just keep trying.”

Adkins said she couldn’t wait to get her vaccination. It made her feel hopeful.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been excited about getting a shot,” she said. “Even being in the car was exciting and coming to the mall and seeing there’s actual people – it gives me a taste of hope.”

Rancho Bernardo resident Mark Lozano also hopped on the first appointment he could get under Phase 1C. He said getting in line for an appointment online sort of felt like getting tickets to another highly-anticipated San Diego event: Comic-Con International San Diego.

“It was bit like, being from San Diego, getting in line for tickets for Comic Con, where you’re just refreshing, just trying to get that lucky lottery spot and it came through and I was super relieved when it did,” Lozano recounted.

Lozano has a heart condition and said he has been very careful throughout the pandemic.

“I know with COVID and a heart condition, things can go badly, very quickly,” he said. “So I’ve had to maintain strict controls this entire time, so as soon as I heard pre-existing conditions were going to be allowed, I wanted to be on it as soon as possible.”

He’s looking forward to being able to reunite with his family once it is safe to do so.

By the Numbers: Coronavirus Vaccinations in San Diego County

San Diego County public health officials said that as of March 12, more than 1.27 million COVID-19 vaccines had been delivered to San Diego County. Of those doses, 1.18 million had been administered to both San Diego County residents and county employees.

The county said nearly 400,000 residents – or 14.8% of San Diegans age 16 and older – are fully immunized with the coronavirus vaccine.

According to the county, nearly 688,000 San Diego County residents have received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines – or 25.6% of those who were eligible as of March 12.

The county said those who are getting the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in San Diego County are being added to the total of fully vaccinated San Diegans.

More info on the county’s vaccination distribution can be found here.

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