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San Diego County’s expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility launches Saturday

The county decided to open the vaccines to more people in Phase 1B, Tier 1 as vaccine supplies increase and more progress is made in vaccinating.

SAN DIEGO — More than half a million people in San Diego County have become eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccines, including people who work in child care and education, food and agriculture, grocery stores and emergency services.

San Diego County officials announced last week that the vaccines were available for those groups, but also admitted it could take weeks to get a shot to everyone who wants one.

"We need folks to be patient," Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Wednesday, adding that the county will prioritize K-12 schools in ZIP codes hardest hit by COVID-19.

Previously, only health care personnel, long-term care facility staff and residents and those who are 65 years and older were eligible for vaccines.

The county decided to open the vaccines to more people in Phase 1B, Tier 1 as vaccine supplies increase and more progress is made in vaccinating those currently eligible.

“I am super excited and happy. Teaching is a selfless career, and I know that my sister and I are here getting vaccinated for our students to ensure the safety. It will be emotional watching some of my students struggle in distance learning, lacking socialization, and I have the screen as my barrier from them,” said San Diego Unified kindergarten teacher Jillian Salazar.

Three agencies will take the lead in vaccinating some of the newly eligible groups.

The San Diego County Office of Education and the California Schools VEBA will exclusively schedule appointments for transitional kindergarten through 12th grade teachers and staff through vebavaccinates.com. The priority will be schools open and planning to open, and then those closed, starting with those in the fourth quartile of the California Healthy Places Index.

"The state called for setting aside 10% of vaccine supply for education but the County of San Diego is going further," said county Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten. "We are setting aside 20% to get teachers back in schools."

Appointments exclusive to the law enforcement community will be organized by Scripps Health.

For farm workers in fields and rural locations, Cal Fire and Operation Collaboration took the lead in scheduling remote vaccination events. Carlsbad Strawberry Company is a one-time vaccination site that was used Saturday. Cal Fire will be setup at different farms throughout the county moving forward.

“This one step means were on the road back into the classroom, where are teachers and students belong,” said Dede Alpert, Chair, Sharp HealthCare Board of Directors and former state senator and Solana Beach school board member.

Not just educators, Seniors 65 and up and other groups also showed up as Sharp only has 1,500 appointments available for teachers on Saturday and Sunday at both its Chula Vista and Grossmont Center SuperStations.

Then also, teachers could get the shot at UC San Diego Health's RIMAC or Recreation, Intramural and Athletic Complex on campus in La Jolla.

Laura Josh the area Vice-President for California Schools VEBA it extended more than 14,000 appointment invitations to educators in the most at-risk communities and then will soon roll out more.

"It all depends on supply, which is out of our control, we are hoping to get it through as fast as possible to determine how quickly we can move through the tier,” said Josh.

There are still vaccine shortages. One sign at the Chula Vista site said “you may receive your second dose of Moderna if you received your first dose before February 3.”

Chris Howard, President, CEO of Sharp HealthCare said Sharp has enough vaccine to continue through this weekend.

Julie Walker, the Sweetwater Education Association Full-time release president said her teachers are so excited, they are chomping at the bit to get their appointment.

Some South Bay schools are getting prepared to reopen April 12. Walker says it has been challenging for educators in communities that have suffered due to Covid-19.

"This year, we are hearing multiple students missing not only parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, extended family members losing them to this horrible, horrible illness,” Walker said.

Salazar says despite the emotional rollercoaster and adjustments educator have been on since the pandemic, teachers are grateful to get this step to help get back inside classrooms.

"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Salazar said.

All others eligible in these groups can sign up for appointments through vaccinationsuperstationsd.com. Not everyone will be able to get an immediate appointment, but more time slots will open as additional vaccines arrive.

People with underlying conditions can begin signing up for vaccinations on March 15.

Those inoculated to date include more than 213,000 San Diegans who are fully vaccinated, while 19.9% of the population over age 16 has received at least one dose.

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