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San Diego County will start ramping up vaccine efforts over the next several weeks. File photo
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County health officials update SANDAG on COVID-19 vaccine program

REGION — A group of San Diego County’s public health officials pledged to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination campaigns across the county over the next several weeks during the San Diego Association of Governments’ Jan. 8 meeting.

Several local health officials, including Nick Macchione, director of the county’s health and human services agency; infectious disease specialist Dr. Ankita Kadakia; Jennifer Bransford-Koons, public testing branch director for the county’s COVID-19 response team, and Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County’s public health officer, provided the regional agency a status update on the county’s vaccine rollout.

Currently, 60,000 people have received the first round of vaccinations under the county’s first phase (Phase 1A), which includes healthcare workers and residents in long-term care facilities. Recipients will need two doses of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

According to Macchione, in order to reach herd immunity, the county needs to find ways to increase the vaccine workforce. Between 75% to 85% of people need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Macchione said roughly 4,800 paramedics and EMTs in the county will help perform vaccinations, even floating the possibility of recruiting school nurses to help administer the vaccine.

“Our goal is to have pods, or vaccination sites, throughout the county like testing,” Macchione said. “In the weeks to come, numbers will increase. There is definite urgency. About 70-80% of hospital employees are opting in. You’d think it would be higher. Going to have to work hard to get the public involved.”

According to the county’s website, there are two phases, although Phase 1 has five tiers. Residents in the first three tiers under Phase 1A (healthcare workers) are currently eligible for vaccination.

The next two tiers under Phase 1B include people aged 65 years and older and additional job sectors, including education, childcare, emergency services and critical manufacturing, to name a few.

The final phase, Phase 2, includes all individuals age 16 and older.

Dr. Denise Foster, director of the county’s vaccine clinical branch, said the CDC allocates a certain number of vaccines to states based on population. The California Department of Public Health opened enrollment to clinical providers to allow for them to be COVID providers.

The CDC determines the number of vaccines based on registration while the county allocates and reserves those doses, Foster said.

Macchione could not commit to a timeline as many challenges are ahead, most notable the difficulty of reaching residents currently living in 1,300 long-term care facilities across the county.

Catherine Blakespear, SANDAG chair and Encinitas mayor, said under the current pace, it may take up to nine months to reach those herd immunity targets. Macchione said the county is working rapidly to provide more vaccination sites, plus recruiting the aforementioned workforce.

On Monday, UC San Diego Health, San Diego County and the Padres announced a “Vaccination Super Station” near Petco Park in an effort to safely vaccinate the 500,000 healthcare workers in the region eligible for Phase 1A-Tier categories on California’s vaccine priority list.

According to Kadakia, a county medical doctor, the Pfizer vaccine has a 95% efficacy rate and Pederma’s vaccine is 94% effective.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the virus impacts everyone differently, noting the challenges with the homeless and Black and brown communities.

“Please avail yourself of the vaccines to get our economy back up and kids back in school,” Gloria said.

The county has set up a website, www.coronavirus-sd.com, with information about the tiers and vaccination program. In addition, the county is requiring individuals currently eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1A to schedule an appointment online here.

Watch the entire SANDAG meeting here:

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