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COVID: California Put Frontline Dentists In Back Of The Line For Vaccinations

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Frontline health care workers and nursing homes are first in line to get a COVID-19 vaccine in California, but dental workers who face unmasked patients at work daily, have to wait.

While the State of California granted dentists an emergency waiver to administer COVID-19 vaccines, it's unclear when they'll get scheduled to get their own.

Mary Hoffman is a dedicated dental hygienist in Menlo Park. Roughly 8 times a day, she puts herself at risk by peering into the mouths and assessing the oral health of unmasked patients.

"It's unnerving at times. Even though we're taking precautions and taking temperatures and asking questions, people are asymptomatic, and you have no idea if they are contagious or have the virus which is very scary," recounted Hoffman.

A COVID-19 vaccine would make all the difference.

"We're highly exposed with every patient from the time we walk in, to the time we walk out," noted dentist Scott Hoffman.

But according to California guidelines, dental workers don't yet qualify. They are classified as Tier 3 meaning they will get the vaccine after teachers, grocery and farm workers.

"I just don't understand," said Mary.

Neither does some in public health.

"I can't imagine being more front facing then working in somebody's mouth," commented UCSF epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford.

Dr. Rutherford noted how dental workers already detailed precautions to reduce their risk of infectious disease. But with the coronavirus, even if dental workers take temperatures at the door and survey their patients about COVID-19 exposures, they're still at risk.

"Fifty to 60 percent of transmission is by asymptomatic people. So, temperature screening is great but that's only going to knock off 40 percent," said Dr. Rutherford.

On Monday, Governor Newsom announced that dentists will soon be allowed to administer COVID-19 vaccines. While California has granted dentists an emergency waiver to inoculate others, it's unclear when they will be able to get vaccinated themselves.

In a statement to KPIX 5, the California Dental Association said when it comes to their members, "it is imperative they are given the same protection as other professionals administering the vaccine and are vaccinated themselves."

Mary Hoffman could not agree more.

"I would roll up my sleeve today," said the dental hygienist.

The Governor's Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghally said vaccinators – whether a county public health department or a medical facility - do have the flexibility to administer extra doses of vaccine to Tier 3 individuals. But the California Dental Association would like to see their members moved up to a higher tier.

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