As of Monday, February 8, UC San Diego will use the on-campus recreation, intramural, and athletic complex (RIMAC), as a vaccination center. This center will vaccinate eligible UCSD Health patients, faculty, and staff. RIMAC is not currently open to UCSD students or the general public who are eligible for vaccinations, but may expand in the future depending on vaccine availability and demand.
UCSD has partnered with San Diego County to help administer vaccines to the ‘Phase 1A’ group, which includes around 500,000 healthcare workers, long-term care residents, and older or medically vulnerable individuals. The Phase 1A rollout relied on a Super Station at Petco Park, which has been staffed primarily by volunteers. The university teamed up with the county to set up the “drive-thru vaccination hub” at the Super Station, comprising over 40 tents and 300 staff working to administer vaccines from 7am to 7pm daily.
The RIMAC site is expected to administer around 5,000 vaccinations daily; those eligible for a vaccine will be invited through the online portal MyUCSDChart to schedule appointments. Unlike Petco Park, the RIMAC vaccination center will not be drive-through, so additional safety measures will be taken. The RIMAC site will be run primarily by medical personnel from UCSD Health, with some volunteers assisting.
Miya Busch, third-year Triton Student Health Ambassador, says that student health ambassadors are able to sign up and volunteer at RIMAC in addition to Petco Park. It is not currently known when Student Health Ambassadors will have the opportunity to be vaccinated.
In a recent press release, the UCSD Office of the Chancellor called this effort a “light and hope at the end of the tunnel”. This vaccination hub, UCSD’s latest effort against COVID-19, will not only help distribute the vaccine to the San Diego area, but is also a key step towards UCSD’s goal of hosting in person classes this coming Fall.
With reported 94-95% rate of effectiveness for both vaccines, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, there is rising optimism amongst those vaccinated. Jasmine Pablo, the first worker vaccinated at Petco Park on January 11, said it gave her hope.
“I want to be able to protect my coworkers, my friends, my family, everyone. It’s really important,” Pablo said in a UCSD news release.
Dr. Robert “Chip” Schooley, a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health and co-lead of the Return to Learn program, stated that the new presidential administration would be essential in ensuring an efficient and broad vaccine roll out.
According to Schooley, once COVID vaccines become more widely available, it could be added to the list of vaccine requirements for all UCSD students. However, he added that faculty and staff are not currently mandated to take the vaccine.
“It would be hard to advocate for measles vaccinations and leave coronavirus vaccinations off the list if it turns out to be as safe as we think it is,” Schooley said at a Return to Learn Town Hall on January 11.
Effective as of January 23, the county and UCSD are transitioning to ‘Phase 1B’ of vaccine distribution, beginning with those 65 and older. Phase 1B Tier 1 also includes non-healthcare workers who have risk of exposure, like teachers and caretakers, emergency services, and workers in the food and agriculture sector. These groups are next to receive the vaccine.
While the university’s essential campus workers are not currently eligible to receive the vaccine, essential resident employees and highly vulnerable patients are likely to be included in Phase 1B. UCSD is now determining the prioritization and eligibility of employees for ‘Phase 1B’, including the “several thousand frontline staff”. The University currently plans to distribute the vaccine in a 2:1 ratio of UCSD patients to essential workers, though this rollout is subject to county and federal approval. Under government guidance, eligible UCSD staff and professors may register for a vaccination using MyChart.
San Diego County’s Phase 1B Tier 2 makes the vaccine available to workers in sectors such as transportation, commercial, manufacturing, and those in dense areas with high risk, such as homeless and incarcerated individuals. Younger individuals with preexisting conditions vulnerable to COVID-19, and those aged 50 to 64 will be part of Phase 1C. In Phase 2, the vaccine will be distributed to the general population over 16.
Before being vaccinated, UCSD healthcare workers are required to undergo vaccine education before they can schedule an appointment. This is a guideline meant to address the expedited process of vaccine preparation and testing, which led to the lack of consideration of different types of people , including pregnant women or immunocompromised individuals, in trials.
As of February 1, around 89,000 vaccines have been administered at the Petco Park Superstation. However, even with the vaccines the county has urged to follow all measures meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks and social distancing. Furthermore, according to the state government, it is advised that everyone be administered the vaccine, even those who have recovered from COVID-19, as they may run the risk of becoming sick again. The vaccine is available to everyone, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. These recommendations are expected to stay firmly in place until more is understood about the protection afforded by COVID-19 vaccinations.
With Executive Vice President of UC Health, Carrie Byington’s sights set on “July of 2021 as the first days of nearing herd immunity…[significant enough] to turn the trajectory of the pandemic,” and the progress made in administered vaccines throughout San Diego County and California, it seems as though this vaccination process, per Byington, is “the beginning of the end.”
Sarvani Kolachana is an Assistant News Editor for The Triton. Assistant News Editor Julianna Domingo contributed to the research and writing of this article.