After a sluggish start to San Diego County’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the region has received 173,000 doses over the past few days, coinciding with the launch of a mass inoculation site in Chula Vista on Thursday.

Sharp HealthCare will run the site, located in a former Sears department store, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. County Supervisor Nora Vargas said that 1,800 people made appointments Thursday, and a Sharp spokesperson added that the site will vaccinate 5,000 people a day by next week.

It’s the second effort of its kind in the county. The first, run by UC San Diego at the Petco Park tailgate parking lot, has immunized more than 35,000 San Diegans, according to Dr. Christopher Longhurst, UCSD Health’s chief information officer.

Unlike the site near Petco Park, the Chula Vista location will be walk-in rather than drive-thru (though you’ll need to make an appointment). And it’s the first vaccine site in the South Bay, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. National City and Chula Vista have the highest and third-highest coronavirus infection rates, respectively, among the county’s cities.

“We’re really being guided through what we call an equity lens,” Vargas said, noting that this is a vaccine location that people can walk to, “which is really critical, particularly in the South Bay, when many of our community members are using public transportation and don’t have access to cars.”

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Thursday that the county plans to set up two more mass vaccination sites in East County and North County, along with a total of 16 smaller county-run sites throughout the region, by Feb. 1.

It’s all part of a plan to administer 250,000 shots by the end of the month, and to inoculate 1.9 million San Diegans by July.

The county is proceeding without firm guarantees around the one essential piece to an immunization campaign: vaccine.

Fletcher noted during the county’s weekly coronavirus briefing that the county often doesn’t know more than about a day in advance that doses are coming. So while the recent influx of doses helps, it’s unclear what will happen to San Diego County’s vaccine supply a week or even a few days from now.

Some health systems, including UCSD Health, the San Diego VA and Scripps, have already begun contacting older patients in their networks to invite them to get their shot. Sharp plans to do so beginning Friday. These efforts are unfolding slowly and unevenly between hospital systems, depending on the amount of spare doses each system already has and how many it has recently received.

“Unfortunately, it’s on a day-by-day basis,” said Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, Scripps Health’s chief medical officer for clinical excellence and experience. “Like, we just got the doses yesterday. So we’ll open more spots.”

Recent state and federal guidelines mean that nearly 500,000 San Diegans 65 and up are now eligible to get their shot. Older adults are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. About 15 percent of San Diegans 80 and older who’ve gotten COVID-19 have died — more than one in seven.

But that means that vaccine demand now exceeds supply by an even wider margin, as there were already 620,000 San Diegans in the state’s highest-priority vaccination group: health care workers and nursing home residents and staff.

So far, about 442,000 doses have been shipped to the region.

San Diegans 75 and up can get their shots at county-run sites or through their health system if their provider has enough vaccine, while those 65 and up must go through their provider for now. That has led to an online signup scramble that has left behind some older San Diegans who either don’t own a computer or are not comfortable using one. Even people who’ve successfully signed up have complained they only did so after a lot of persistence and a bit of luck.

You might spend the next 25, 30 minutes just clicking, clicking and entering, entering,” said Elizabeth Kostas of Carmel Valley, who made an appointment after 10 tries.

In light of these issues, county officials announced Thursday that San Diegans 75 and up who don’t own a computer can call 2-1-1 for help connecting with their health care provider. And if their health systems don’t have vaccine, they can get over-the-phone assistance making an appointment at one of the county’s immunization sites if there’s an available slot.

The region’s vaccine rollout is still in its infancy. Nearly 182,000 San Diegans have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine shot, but only 29,000 residents have gotten the two doses needed to maximize immunity.

At least six San Diegans had allergic reactions at the Petco Park site last week after receiving a certain batch of Moderna’s vaccine, leading the state’s public health department to ask providers to stop using that batch while it investigated further. But on Wednesday, the state cleared providers to continue using the doses in question, including the 30,000 doses sent to San Diego County.

“People are looking very closely at scrutinizing every single possible reaction from vaccines — which happen with all vaccines — and with these new vaccines, people are being extra cautious. That’s good,” said Dr. Davey Smith, UCSD’s chief of infectious disease. “People are looking out for us, and they did the right thing.”

On Thursday, the county reported 1,176 new coronavirus cases and 22 new hospitalizations, continuing recent trends of a slight downturn after the post-holiday COVID-19 surge. But the county also reported 438 San Diegans with COVID-19 in intensive care units throughout the region. That’s a single-day record. And the 48 COVID-19 deaths reported Thursday follows Wednesday’s single-day record of 65.

In other words, says Scripps Health’s Sharieff, it’s going to take time to fully turn the tide of the pandemic. The health system, one of the largest in the region, is operating at 118 percent of its typical ICU capacity — an emergency measure made possible by using more beds than ordinarily licensed for ICU use, and, she says, a telling indicator of the pandemic’s continued toll.

“There’s this false sense of security because new cases are going down. But you look at the deaths that we’re seeing; these are really sick patients,” Sharieff said. “This vaccine isn’t a magic bullet.”

For additional information on vaccine eligibility and the regional rollout, visit the COVID-19 vaccine

page on the county’s website.

JONATHAN WOSENBIOTECH REPORTER 
JAN. 21, 2021
7:49 PM

This article was written for an appeared in: San Diego’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout boosted by more doses and a second mass immunization site – The San Diego Union-Tribune

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