Where will snowbirds receive the COVID-19 vaccine? Here's what we know

Staff reports

Snowbirds who have second homes in the California desert but normally reside in cooler climes are starting to wonder: Will they need to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the state where they are residents? Or can they qualify wherever they are in the U.S.?

Details are emerging about how the vaccine will move around the nation as distribution comes closer, potentially as early as Friday or Saturday.

Paul Ostrowski, who leads supply, production and distribution for the federal government's Operation Warp Speed, walked USA TODAY through the process.

Here's what we know: Operation Warp Speed, the White House COVID-19 initiative, created a software system called Tiberius that allows states and local jurisdictions to order and track vaccine. It records all allocations of COVID-19 vaccines to states, territories, cities and federal entities, said Col. Deacon Maddox, OWS Chief of Plans, Operations and Analysis.

Inland Empire:How will the COVID-19 vaccine be distributed?

Coachella Valley:Nursing homes sign-up to partner with pharmacies for vaccine

It works in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Tracking System, known as VTrckS,which has been distributing vaccine for children for a decade.

The systems also will allow networks to know who got their first shot and what kind it was and when they should get their second.

"Say you got your vaccination from a public health center in New York on Dec. 15 and now 21 days later you're in Florida because you're a snowbird and you show up at CVS," Ostrowski said.

"We need to be able to pull up your name so we can know that it's you and that you get the right vaccine," he said. 

Those systems will store as little personal information as possible to protect privacy. They won't include Social Security numbers or driver license numbers, said Maddox.

"The only number that it would ask for is a date of birth," he said. 

Lower-tech systems also will be in place. Each dose of vaccine will come with a card that tells the recipient which vaccine they got and when they should come back for their second dose.

They'll also be encouraged to take a picture of the card with their phone in case they lose their card. 

"It's backup to a backup to a backup," Ostrowski said. 

More:Trading COVID-19 vaccines. Regular deliveries. Tracking doses. What we know about Operation Warp Speed distribution process.

What else we know about local distribution

The Inland Empire is included in a region of five California counties slated to receive nearly 60,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December, state officials announced. 

Riverside and San Bernardino counties join Imperial, Inyo and Mono counties in one of six regions organized statewide for vaccine distribution. Their region, Region 6, will receive 59,910 doses. Each region will be responsible for ordering their own vaccines. 

It was not immediately clear how vaccines will be distributed within regions; whether equally or based on county population size. 

However, to put it in perspective: Between the five counties in Region 6, just under 30,000 people will be vaccinated during the mid-December distribution.

That's only 0.6% of the region's 4.9 million residents.

From the start, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said health care workers would receive top priority, in line with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Newsom announced a priority plan within the health care system based on which workers face the highest risk of transmission:

  • The first to receive the vaccine will be health care workers with direct exposure to patients at acute care, psychiatric and correctional facility hospitals; workers at skilled nursing facilities; paramedics; and workers at dialysis centers.
  • After that, workers at intermediate health care facilities, in-home health workers, community health workers, public health field staff and workers at primary care clinics will receive the vaccine. 
  • Finally, workers at specialty clinics, lab workers, dental offices, and pharmacy staff not included previously will receive the vaccine.

Overall, the state is slated to receive an initial 327,000 doses, which will not cover all of California's health care workers. As the vaccine requires two doses, that first distribution will only reach 163,500 people. 

Previous reporting by Desert Sun reporter Nicole Hayden and USA Today reporter Elizabeth Weise was used in this report.