UC San Diego Health began vaccinating older patients against COVID-19 on Thursday, marking the beginning of a new phase in the region’s vaccine rollout.
Members of the health system who are 65 or older and have medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus are being contacted to schedule appointments, according to a statement from UCSD.
“Patients are asked to wait for their vaccination invitations to avoid overwhelming phone lines and to accommodate ongoing services and care … Eligible patients will be contacted as soon as possible, based on availability of vaccine.”
The plan is to start out immunizing 500 patients a day. And with demand exceeding supply, those doses will go to patients whose medical history makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. UCSD did not specify which pre-existing conditions would be considered, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that there’s strong evidence cancer and various forms of lung, kidney and heart disease increase a person’s risk for COVID-19 hospitalization and death.
Diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity are also risk factors, according to Dr. Davey Smith, UCSD’s director of infectious disease. So is age. About 15 percent of San Diego County residents age 80 and older who’ve gotten COVID-19 have died — more than one in seven.
Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, which serves more than 86,000 veterans, already began immunizing patients on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson. Unlike UCSD, the San Diego VA is starting with patients 85 and older until it receives more doses.
Vaccine availability remains a major issue for most local health systems. The region’s two largest systems — Scripps and Sharp — say they currently don’t have enough vaccine to immunize patients. Kaiser Permanente, Alvarado Hospital Medical Center and Paradise Valley Hospital all said the same.
The nation’s two largest retail pharmacy chains, CVS and Walgreens, have yet to begin vaccinating older Californians (with the exception of those in nursing homes). But Ralphs, which has 77 pharmacies throughout Southern California, started this week; San Diegans 65 and up can schedule appointments online at their nearest location.
If you don’t see an option to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine, that’s because slots are filling up fast, according to a Ralphs spokesperson who added that the company’s site started crashing late Wednesday due to a surge in traffic.
For the moment, vaccine doses are still mostly going to San Diego County’s nursing home residents and health care workers, the state’s highest-priority vaccination group. About 620,000 residents fall into this category. Recent federal and state guidelines now mean that more than 473,000 San Diego County residents 65 and older are also eligible for vaccine — assuming their health care provider has the doses.
So far, the region has received about 240,000 vaccine doses and immunized nearly 80,000 San Diegans, though county officials say this is likely an underestimate.
“We have a whole bunch of people in time,” Smith said. “To work through all of them is going to be a major undertaking.”
The county plans to continue to focus on inoculating health care workers at its mass vaccination site near Petco Park until the week of Jan. 25, according to public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.
UCSD is asking patients who want to stay up-to-date with the health system’s vaccine rollout to visit health.ucsd.edu/coronavirus/Pages/vaccine.aspx