SANDAG, SD County Public Health Officials Discuss Ways to Ramp Up Coronavirus Vaccinations

A notification system is currently in the works to alert San Diegans of when they are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine according to the state's phased rollout

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San Diego County leaders are setting up a system to notify residents when they're eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine based on the state's phased rollout, they announced in a Zoom meeting Friday morning.

Already health care professionals who work in settings that are grouped in Phase 1A of the rollout can sign up for the county's notification system online. With it, health care workers in different sectors like primary clinics, dental care, behavioral facilities and more can learn when it is their turn to get the vaccine if they wish.

The announcement came in a virtual meeting as the SANDAG Board of Directors was briefed by San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency Director Nick Macchione on ways to speed up the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine locally – a process that has slowed in recent weeks.

While health professionals are set to sign up, health officials announced the county is currently working on a sign-up website for the general public so other communities can learn when it's their turn to get vaccinated. Macchione said he estimates that site will be ready "relatively soon in the coming weeks.”

Additionally, points of dispensing (POD) will be situated throughout the county so residents can receive their vaccination in different areas. Already POD’s have been set up in north, east, central and south San Diego County with a focus on health equity.

"Our goal is to have POD's or these testing vaccination sites throughout the entire county like we did for testing -- over 43 different locations," Macchione said. "So we know we need to be in all parts of our county. We also know, looking at the data and using a health equity lines, there’s parts of our county very adversely impacted in South Bay."

At least 120,000 coronavirus doses have been delivered to San Diego County, local public health officials confirmed Wednesday. About 51,000 San Diegans have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

County public health officials said that vaccination total, so far, only includes vaccines recorded in the San Diego Immunization Registry, which usually lags several days behind. Some health care providers, including Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, some tribal entities, and prisons do not report to the immunization registry, so the count is likely higher.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived in San Diego County on Dec. 14. That week, the county would receive 28,000 doses of the vaccine. Facilities like Rady Children’s Hospital, UC San Diego Health, Scripps Health, Kaiser Permanente and Sharp Health were among the first to receive batches of the vaccine to administer to frontline health care workers. Those initial 28,000 doses, the county said, would be enough to vaccinate about 70% of local critical care health care workers.

The U.S. Navy in San Diego also received an undisclosed number of vaccines that week, which were distributed first to medical military personnel. Long-term care facilities were also receiving vaccines through a distribution program with CVS and Walgreens in San Diego County in mid-December.

But since that initial rollout, the pace of vaccinations has slowed – not just in San Diego County but across California where COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this week the vaccination pace in the state was simply “not good enough.”

Newsom said only about 1% of California’s 40 million residents had been vaccinated against COVID-19. The Associated Press reported the 454,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine administered in California (as of Jan. 4) represent just a third of more than nearly 1.3 million doses received, so far, in the state.

In San Diego County, a county official recently told NBC 7 Investigates there are no hard numbers on the doses being delivered and administered as of late.

Also earlier this week, California's Department of Consumer Affairs approved a public health emergency waiver that will allow dentists across the state to administer COVID-19 vaccines to patients 16 and older. The waiver aims to add resources to the vaccine administration chain and the effort to ramp up vaccinations across the state.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state needs to ramp up its rollout of the coronavirus vaccine -- and dentists will be tapped to help those efforts. NBC 7's Nicole Gomez explains how this would work.

Meanwhile, nationally, Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week that the U.S. could soon be giving at least a million COVID-19 vaccinations daily, despite the sluggish start to the vaccine rollout.

California’s goal is to be at a rate of 1 million vaccinations per day.

On Wednesday, California health officials said they hope to vaccinate 10 million more people in the next 10 days. You can read more on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine plans here.

To that end, the California Department of Public Health released new recommendations saying health departments and providers should offer doses of the coronavirus vaccine to lower-priority groups when doses are about to expire or when high-priority demand subsides.

According to Pfizer, the vaccine must be stored in special freezers. Once the doses are thawed, they can’t be refrozen and can spoil in just a few hours, so strategic administering and timing is key.

San Diego's Vaccine Plan: Which Communities Will Get It First?

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine comes in two doses that were determined to be 94% effective in preventing infection.

Frontline medical workers will be the first community to be given Pfizer's new vaccine as part of a plan created by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Prevention.

Administering the vaccine to the public will be a three-phase process in which health care workers and long-term care workers and residents will be given priority, followed by essential workers, then adults who are over the age of 65 or who have medical conditions.

In Phase 2 of the vaccine roll out, critical workers not included in Phase 1 will be eligible for the vaccine, as well as children and young adults under the age of 30. Phase 3 includes everyone else in the U.S.

The San Diego County Communications Office said Wednesday that about 82,600 San Diegans who work at acute health care settings would be the first to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The 28,000 doses being delivered around San Diego this week will be used to vaccinate 72% of the nearly 40,000 people “working in acute care, psychiatric and correctional facility hospitals and are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19.”

“We first have to vaccinate our acute health care personnel who are at highest risk,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “After everyone in that group has gotten their first dose, we will move into our next priority group.”

Residents and employees of skilled nursing facilities are also part of the county’s first-priority group.

After this first group is vaccinated, additional doses will arrive in San Diego County and those doses will be used to immunize more acute health care workers.

The county said this will include 14,000 employees at high risk of getting COVID-19, followed by 14,000 employees at medium risk and another 14,000 employees who are lower risk.

The 28,000 recipients in the initial group will get their second dose when more Pfizer vaccine arrives in the region, the county added.

San Diego County public health officials are still trying to determine how many people fall into the Phase 1A-Tier 1 priority group and the number of San Diegans who fall into Tier 2 and Tier 3.

The coronavirus vaccine is expected to be available to the general public in spring 2021, the San Diego County Communications Office said.

When that happens, the vaccine should be available via health care providers, local pharmacies, community clinics or county vaccination sites.

San Diego County is adding all coronavirus vaccine updates to its website here.

Side effects of the Pfizer/BioNtech coronavirus vaccine may include swelling, fatigue, irritation, pain or headache. Some patients who have taken the vaccine reported chills and low-grade fever, according to former FDA chief Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

Vaccine doses bought with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be free to Americans, according to the CDC. However, vaccination providers could charge an administration fee if they chose.

On Jan. 6, the county said all health care personnel in Phase 1A of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution are now eligible to get immunized – if there are enough doses in the region.

County public health officials said an estimated 500,000 people in San Diego are eligible in the three tiers of Phase1A.

“That figure does not include some health care providers since they receive their vaccine directly from the manufacturer or the distributor,” the county added.

“We still don’t have vaccines available for the general public, so we’re asking San Diegans to be patient,” said County public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten. “When we do, we will let them know where they can get vaccinated.”

For more info about COVID-19 in San Diego County including vaccine distribution, visit the county’s website.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines were developed using mRNA—short for messenger RNA— technology. Here is how they work.
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