California Approves Emergency Waiver Allowing Dentists to Join COVID-19 Vaccination Effort

Dentists in California are being tapped to help ramp up the state's coronavirus vaccination efforts as cases continue to surge

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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 adds resources to the vaccine administration chain, which some -- including California Gov. Gavin Newsom -- worry is moving too slow.  

California health officials said the state is working to expand the list of sites where the vaccine can be distributed to include pharmacies, clinics and dental offices. 

La Jolla-based dentist Coleman Meadows is looking forward to potentially joining the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

“I think it is a generational challenge,” Meadows said, describing helping the vaccination effort as a responsibility. “I hope that a lot of people respond to the call. I hope that the public embraces that."

NBC 7's Dave Summers heard from a dentist and potential patients about getting vaccinated by a dentist.

Once vaccine supply catches up, dentists coming on board on the administration side will give Californians more options. The hope is that it can free up doctors and critical health care staff while also taking patients out of health care settings, which can be dangerous and scary for some.

When asking San Diegans about the thought of getting vaccinated at a dentist’s office, NBC 7 heard mixed reactions.

“[A dentist is] a medical professional. He gives medicines to his patients. This is another type of medicines,” Emily Burnett said, suggesting getting the shot from your dentists isn’t any less safe.

“I trust it less,” Leonard Bangs said. “I am still not interested in doing it for the COVID-19 vaccine. If you really think you need it, then sure."

There have been far fewer people vaccinated than expected. Some blame the process, others the politicians. Meadows said you can find challenges anywhere you look.

"I do think that both Pfizer and Moderna certainly present logistical challenges with the temperature that they must be stored at and the two-dose vaccine," Meadows explained.

“People who don't have time, maybe they can schedule an appointment for one now when the lines are too booked. It's just really good for accessibility and just being able to get it out there,” San Diego resident Kyle Ragland said.

A California Dental Association spokesperson said the County Health and Human Services Agency will ultimately determine what role dentists play in the vaccination effort.

Meadows hopes his profession’s role is expanded in time.

“At first it will be as part of a larger cohesive team of other providers that are drawn up and called up from the ranks to participate,” he said.

Because of the vaccine's cold storage requirements, the California Dental Association said dentists will, at first, join other health care professionals working at vaccination stations.

But if a vaccine that can be stored at room temperature is approved, vaccinations may one day be available at your dentist's office.

According to the California Department of Public Health, about 454,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in California thus far, but 1.3 million doses have been received by the state.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, NBC 7 Investigates reported Monday there are no hard numbers available yet on just how many coronavirus vaccinations have been administered.

Local health officials said a lag in the data leaves them unable to know exact vaccination numbers, but they estimate the county has received more than 200,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine since mid-December – not including doses received by the military and private pharmacies.

With a vast majority of vaccine doses delivered to California still not administered to people, the governor says he’ll include $300 million in his budget proposal this week, to pay for vaccine logistics, a public education campaign and more. Terry McSweeney reports.
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