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Creating vaccine access for rural areas of San Diego County

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 09:00:41-05

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - “Operation Collaboration” is made up of a couple dozen San Diego fire and EMS agencies with the goal of getting vaccines out into the community. Most recently, they have started vaccinating agricultural workers and people in rural communities.

In addition to the two fixed sites at Cuyamaca College and in Carlsbad, the agencies have hosted pop-up vaccine sites in eight rural areas, including Borrego Springs, Julian, James, Ramona, Valley Center, Pine Valley, Alpine and Warner Springs.

Thomas Shoots, Fire Captain and Public Information Officer for Cal Fire and San Diego County Fire, said the various fire and EMS agencies are already located around the county, making it easy for them to get to more rural areas. Their mobility is crucial because when looking at a map of the San Diego County vaccine sites, the farthest site east in El Cajon, leaving parts of east county miles away from a site.

“For some people, if you live in a place like Borrego Springs, those people would be driving for hours to be able to get to a super site so it’s nice to be able to be able to provide that for them,” said Shoots.

These are areas that can become “food deserts” because of the far distances to major grocery stores, and are now becoming “vaccine deserts” in a way.

“The idea of having to go down to the city was something that I didn’t even want to think about,” said Julian resident Ed Glass.

Glass said driving the 50 or 60 miles to a major city in San Diego County to get the vaccine was too difficult, so he was thankful that the vaccine site came to him. He said it was an easy process.

“My own experience, it was pretty much a slam dunk,” said Glass.

While the rural sites have been moving smoothly, Shoots said the addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a welcome add-on. The single-dose vaccine will be another layer of help for areas already lacking access.

“It’s a bit of a juggle and the one shot is definitely going to be an asset for us and I hope it continues to pour in because that would be huge,” said Shoots.

Operation Collaboration will be receiving 500 doses in their first allotment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. As of Monday, March 8, about 3,400 first doses were given at rural sites and about 2,300 second doses have been given. Shoots advised people follow CAL FIRE San Diego on social media to see future postings about vaccine pop-up sites.

The agencies taking part in Operation Collaboration include CAL FIRE, Alpine FPD, American Medical Response, Barona FD, Bonita-Sunnyside FPD,, Borrego Springs FD, Carlsbad FD, Deer Springs FPD, Del Mar FD, Encinitas FD, Escondido FD, Heartland FRD, Lakeside FPD, Mercy, Ambulance, North County FPD, Oceanside FD, Pala FD, Ramona FPD, Rancho Santa Fe FPD, San Marcos FD, San Miguel FPD, Santee FD, Solana Beach FD, Valley Center FPD, Viejas FD and Vista FD.