SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego County will prioritize vaccinating the region's health care workers ahead of residents 65 and older after the state expanded those eligible for a vaccine to seniors.
Prior to Wednesday, anyone 75 or older would become eligible in phase 1B in California. Wednesday, the state announced that would drop to 65, however, San Diego County leaders said the county is still trying to get everyone in Phase 1A vaccinated, which consists of health care workers and staff.
In a press conference Wednesday, Board of Supervisor Chair Nathan Fletcher said the county also still needs to build out a capable large-scale distribution system and staff enough people to administer vaccines. There are plans for super vaccination sites to be added in the South Bay, North County, and East County.
"The total number of vaccines that we are aware of, that have arrived in San Diego County, is just north of 200,000 ... but the number of San Diegans who are in tier 1A is 620,000. It also takes two doses for any of those people to be fully vaccinated. And so we were just beginning the process of getting through tier 1A with health care workers and we had a long way to go," Fletcher said. "There are approximately half a million San Diegans that are 65 and older. If you add those two categories together, you can see that is well over a million people that are being told that they are now eligible for a vaccine that no county in California has available to give them."
Fletcher said county-run vaccination sites will continue to prioritize vaccinating health care workers. He added that health care systems that have the vaccine will have the ability to vaccinate residents 65 and older if they have enough doses.
Scripps Health, Sharp Healthcare, and Kaiser all said they are still working on the eligible healthcare workers in Phase 1A. Scripps Health issued a statement that read, in part, no San Diego hospitals have been given vaccines to distribute to patients and discouraged patients from immediately calling their health care providers for a vaccine:
"Scripps Health is aware that California officials have allowed for residents 65 and older to qualify for COVID-19 vaccinations. However, none of the San Diego hospitals have been given the vaccinations at this time to begin distribution to their patients, and we are waiting to hear from the government on when to expect them. Scripps asks that our patients wait to hear from us, and we promise to keep you fully informed. At this point, please do not call your Scripps physician’s office as they do not know when the vaccines will be available."
Kaiser Permanente issued a similar statement, saying the hospital system is only offering vaccines to those in Phase 1A at the moment:
"We are encouraged by the announcement that individuals 65 and older are now in the next group eligible to start receiving vaccines. Currently, per state guidelines, Kaiser Permanente Southern California is offering vaccines by appointment for those in Phase 1a: patient-facing health care workers who are at high risk of coming into contact with COVID-19 patients or employees of long-term care facilities: nurses, physicians, technicians, medical assistants, dentists, pharmacists, emergency medical technicians and non-clinical workers such as food services, environmental services, and administrative staff who may come into contact with COVID-19 patients."
Doctor Christian B. Ramers, the Chief of Population Health at Family Health Center San Diego, is also part of the group helping guide San Diego County in determining the logistics of the vaccine rollout.
Ramers said once it's time to move to Phase 1B, the age drop from 75 to 65 will have a large impact on the county because of how many more people are now eligible. He said in San Diego County, there are about 200,000 people 75 and older, and about half a million people 65 and older.
This increase in eligible people might not be best, because now a healthy 65-year-old is eligible at the same time as an 80-year-old with health issues.
"If you open up to a larger pool, it dilutes the effect of giving it to the people that have the highest risk of dying," he said.
Despite the slower than desired rollout, San Diego County has set a goal to administer 250,000 vaccinations by the end of the month.
According to Fletcher, there are about 2.7 million San Diegans who are 16 and older who are able to receive the current COVID-19 vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health have set the goal for each county to reach 70% vaccination of that group by July 1, 2021 — or about 1.9 million San Diegans. That would require about 3.8 million doses, two for each person.
To hit that goal, Fletcher says the county would need to vaccinate 23,434 people per day starting Feb. 1 through the end of June.
"All of that is dependent on the arrival of the vaccines, something that is completely and totally outside of our control," Fletcher said.
As of Monday, San Diego County has received 241,825 doses, not including private entities that may have the vaccine as well. As of Tuesday, a total of 92,305 doses have been administered, including first and second doses.
But Fletcher cautioned that because there is a lag — up to a few weeks — in reporting vaccination numbers to the county, that number is believed to be much higher.
To meet the demand, the county is planning to meet this upcoming demand with a combination of distribution events, sites, and teams. This week, a "vaccination super station" near Petco Park was opened with the goal of administering 6,000 doses a day by February.
By February, the county hopes to be able to administer 18,686 COVID-19 doses to eligible recipients daily through the combination of distribution methods.
Fletcher added that San Diego County will be a pilot county for a new state system for residents to register and be notified when they are eligible for a vaccine. That system is expected to be rolled out next week.
Ramers added that as more people become eligible, it will be important for residents to stay on top of the latest information. He advises people to know what phase they become eligible and watch the news to see who is up. When it's your turn, the goal is to have plenty of resources for where to get vaccinated.
"The idea is we want to have a no-wrong-door approach. So if you get the notification and you can go down to a mass vaccination site at Petco Park, go ahead and do it. That's fine. If you’re in with your own doctor and your own doctors offices has vaccines ready to give you, go ahead and do it," said Ramers.
Ramers said hospital staff are already stretched thin because of caring for coronavirus patients and doing tests, so there is a large need for volunteers to help give out vaccines. Any physicians, dentists, nurses, paramedics, and EMTs are asked to volunteer to help give out vaccines.
Wednesday, San Diego County reported 3,261 new COVID-19 infections and 54 additional fatalities, bringing the region's totals to 201,580 cases and 1,952 deaths.